Tag Archives: Taiwan Traffic

Vignette #19: Legal Philosophy and Taiwanese Traffic

If you’ve traveled Taiwan you could be forgiven reaching the conclusion driving on the sidewalk is legal. It’s not; but, sending pedestrians flying for cover as you—astride 125cc’s of rumbling thunder—roar onto the sidewalk is practically the national pastime.

When I first arrived in Taiwan I too concluded sidewalk surfing on a scooter was perfectly legal. In my defense, nowadays people still drive on Taiwan’s sidewalks, but they’re a bit shifty-eyed about it. Occasionally they’ll even hop off and push their scooters. An astute onlooker might guess that sidewalk driving is illegal. Not so twenty-some years ago, then drivers had no compunction about using the sidewalk as a handy third lane.

I went to Taiwan to live and bought myself a scooter within weeks of arrival. I had no more knowledge of Taiwan than an average tourist. Unaware of my own illegality, I took great joy in playing motorized sidewalk snooker [old man off the hobbling geriatric woman’s walker into the stinky tofu stand], just like a native-born son of Taiwan—a most 台 of 台客’s.

One particular day, I was high-tailing it down the sidewalk heading to work—hell-bent for khaki—when I plowed past a police officer giving me the stink-eye. He was obviously tempted to stop me, but that was back when you could count on cops to assiduously avoid foreigners. [A beautiful era]. I was confused by his reaction. I thought maybe he’d never seen a white guy driving in Taiwan. It was still uncommon. It never occurred to me, as I scrapped old-guy [10 points] off my scooter’s bodywork, that the issue might be my one-man demolition derby through Taipei’s walkways.

When I breathlessly hauled ass into class and told them the story, the whole class looked at me like a cross-eyed Appalachian cousin-brother. They insisted my behavior was terribly illegal. My reaction was: “Really? In Taiwan?!? Illegal?” I continued in a scoffing tone, “Pray tell what is this ‘traffic violation’ of which you speak?” Turns out there were traffic regulations restricting the driving of motorized vehicles on the sidewalk.

Who knew?

That was my first introduction to Taiwanese legal philosophy. Just ignore laws that are inconvenient, don’t make sense, or are too annoying—unless there’s a cop around.

Vignette #18: Surviving Taiwan’s Traffic

Surviving half a life spent on Taiwan’s roadways is no mean accomplishment. My second day in Taipei found me driving a borrowed scooter—barreling through Taipei—trying to keep up with a friend showing me Taipei. He’d been here a long time, knew what he was doing in Taipei traffic, and was going like a bat out of Hell. That was back before the MRT opened, so traffic was much more congested and unruly than its current stateliness. Of course, that was before helmet laws—so I wore nothing but a fearful grimace and blonde hair waving in the wind.

Before setting out, he gave me just one piece of advice: “In Taiwan, the vehicle in front has the right-of-way. If he cuts you off, brakes short, or squeezes you out of your lane it is your job—as the follower—to yield. He has done nothing wrong”. By following this simple rule, traffic moves efficiently, if annoyingly, through Taipei. If you haven’t experienced Taiwanese roadways you need to use your imagination to conceptualize what this rule does to traffic flow. [Incidentally, it also explains pedestrian behavior].

Back in the day, people were so unconcerned about what was happening behind them they used to remove their scooter’s rearview mirrors. They were scared of being disemboweled if thrown over the handlebars, and why care what’s going on behind you? Once in front all others must bow to your will.

Honestly, I’m not sure this is a literal Taiwanese road rule. On the written portion of my Taiwanese driver’s test, I did say the person in front has the right-of-way, but I could’ve got the answer wrong. It is very possible my friend was being hyperbolic. It doesn’t matter. It was the best survival advice I’ve ever received. If you keep this idea in mind while out in Taiwanese traffic you’ll live longer.