Traffic Accidents in Korea

Traffic Accidents in Korea

How safe are Korean roads? Did traffic improve and what is the current trend? The last post about road safety in Korea is from 2013 and thus, I want to answer these questions again by presenting statistics about traffic accidents in Korea. I’ll show the most current data and for some issues the development from 2000 until 2014.



Registered Cars in Korea

After the economic boom and urbanization begun around 1970, private motorization was very low. In 1980 then private motorization slowly begun but the big increase happened between 1990 and 2000. Cars become available and affordable while public transport was in a bad shape. The trend of private motorization is still on-going:

Registered Cars in Korea vs Year

The number grew from 12 million in 2000 to over 20 million in 2014. Korea reached the 20 million mark of registered cars on 30 October 2014 (to be exactly at 11 am). Korea is the 15th nation in the world and the fourth nation in Asia (China, Japan and India) with more than 20 million cars. Korea experiences a constant grow of cars and the statistics don’t show a slowdown.



Amount of Traffic Accidents in Korea

Luckily, the number of traffic accidents doesn’t follow the trend of private motorization. Traffic accidents have fallen by around 24% between 2002 and 2014:

2007 was the year with the lowest amount of traffic accidents. After that the amount grew again but it seems to stabilize between 215,000 and 230,000.    



Traffic Accident Injuries

Focusing on traffic-related injuries we can identify a sharp decrease as well:


After a drop from 426,984 cases in 2000 to 348,184 injuries in 2002, it grew again to 376,503 in the following year. Then there was a constant decrease from 2004 to 2007. The number of traffic injuries then varies by year but it stays under the level of 2003. The year 2013 recorded a maximum low of less than 330,000 injuries. However, in 2014 the number grew again. The development of injuries is similar to accidents: The amount of cases was in average lower between 2004 and 2008 then it is since 2010.



Fatalities due to Traffic Accidents

The situation for deaths due traffic is different. Statistics of traffic fatalities shows a steady decrease (with the exception of 2012):


The number of fatalities in 2014 was half the amount of 2000. There have been 4,762 fatalities on Korean roads in 2014, the lowest number of traffic fatalities since over a decade. The trend looks very positive. Even though it would be great if the amount of traffic fatalities would decrease faster, it is still a good development.   Now, let’s compare motorization and vehicle-kilometers with road fatalities and injuries:

The chart shows how these four indicators developed since 2000. Vehicle kilometers shows how much people use their vehicles. Here, we can see a similar development of motorization and vehicle kilometers. It means that people do not only buy cars, they also use them regularly. Fatalities due road accidents decreased more than injuries since 2000.    



Types of Accidents

How can we explain the decrease of traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities? It may help to look at the accidents type and how many accidents they caused every year.

Dangerous Behavior, Intrusion of Center Line, Speeding, Ignoring Signals, Illegal Actions at Intersections, Insufficient Safety Distance, Others

The Korean Police divides traffic accidents into seven categories. The plot above shows them and the amount of accidents for each category. Dangerous behavior is mainly accounted as a reason for accidents. Accidents due to insufficient safety distance increased from 15,000 cases (2004) to 21,000 (2005) and stayed on this level since then. The amount of accidents because a traffic participant ignored traffic signals increased by around 25%.

Speeding doesn’t seem to be a problem with only 515 cases in Korea but that’s sadly a flaw in the regulations and missing enforcement. In Korean cities people are allowed to drive as fast as 60 km/h. The problem is that such a high driving speed drastically decreases the chances of a pedestrian to survive a collision. This infographic by Copenhagenize explains it well:

The urban driving speed is also the biggest driving speed. I discussed this issue already several times on Kojects and Korea is aware of that problem.



Traffic Fatalities by Group

To support the previous argument about driving speed, I want to show you what group of traffic participants dies the most in Korea:

y1,910 pedestrians died on Korean streets in 2014. Germany, for example, had 523 pedestrian fatalities despite 1.5 times the population size of Korea. In 2013 Korea had the highest pedestrian death rate among OECD countries. Pedestrians are the most vulnerable traffic participants in Korea. It’s a serious issue and speeding is directly connected to it.



International Comparison

In the last part of this article I want to compare the Korean statistics with other industrialized countries. This map shows the road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants for data from 2013:

Korea is fourth with 10.1 road traffic fatalities per 100,000 people. Argentina, Chile and the USA are on the first three rank above Korea. If the number of fatalities is compared to vehicle kilometers, then Korea is first:

Road Fatalities for Vehicle Kilometer

Road fatalities per billion vehicle-kilometres in 2013 (Source: OECD/ITF Road Safety 2015, p. 18)


I mentioned earlier that pedestrians are the most vulnerable group to road deaths in Korea. Here is an comparison of fatalities average between 2009 and 2013:

You can clearly see that the share of pedestrians is the largest in Korea, followed by Japan and Poland.

There are still many challenges in Korea. The increase of motorization and car travel shows how strong the car dominates in Korea’s society. The high accident rates for pedestrians shows that pedestrians are at the end of the ‘food chain’. But it should be the other way around as the green transportation hierarchy shows.



References: Yonhap News | Korean Police Website | OECD Road Safety Annual Report 2015 | KoRoad

About This Author

Co-Author of Kojects. Interested in Sustainable Transportation, Urbanism and Korea.


You can post comments in this post.

  • Thanks for presenting this data so clearly. Korea’s roads are more dangerous than they should be for being such a developed country. Of all the great reasons to live in Korea, safety on the roads is not one.

    Shawn 2 years ago Reply

    • You’re welcome. Thank you for reading!

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply

  • This is really what I meant by not feeling safe on a bike with conditions as they currently are. You could add a link in my article to this one if it fits. Also, that Copenhagen infographic is really well done and straightforward.

    Philip C. Partington 2 years ago Reply

    • Yeah, the infographic is really nice :)
      Finally I could use it in an article.

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply

  • Remember when there were 30 something deaths to MERS in Korea and how people wouldn’t even leave their homes? Meanwhile nearly 5,000 deaths per year due to car accidents and nobody blinks an eye…

    R 2 years ago Reply

  • While this is an important topic and a great summary of the relevant facts, I’m disappointed by this article, as I think KOJECTS could do better. Let elaborate what’s missing from my point of view:

    1. It is not ok to shift the baseline in graphs. That’s an important journalism rule and doing so is a textbook example for how to lie with statistics. Please don’t ever do that. The traffic Accidents / Year graphic looks like a great achievement has been made and the Accidents were reduced by half, while in fact they haven’t changed much since 2002. It’s even worse with the injuries graph. Looking at it we get the impression we can lean back and pat ourselves on the shoulder for a great achievement. Putting the baseline at zero, reveals that there has not been much progress.

    2. In this context, we need to talk a bit about car safety and where the deaths actually occur. So you are saying rightly that the vulnerable traffic participants like pedestrians have a greater share in the death toll. I have written about this in my gest poast from a year ago
    There is another worrying trend that leads to more pedestrian fatalities: Bigger cars. SUV are proven to be much more dangerous for pedestrians, but they are getting more and more popular in South Korea, helped by the extremely cheap petrol.
    A good read:

    3. You mention the often quoted OECD stats. OECD statistics are a goldmine, but what’s actually even more interesting, is that the countries submit plans to the OECD what measures thy are implementing to change the situation. In our case KoROAD has submitted to such a plan and the goal is to be reached in 2016. Now it is 2016 whe are nowhere near this goal. And here is where you need to stop being a blogger and start being a journalist. Inquire with KoROAD why they failed to lower the fatalities like in their plan. Get an official statement from their press officer. Inquire with the press office from the Korean Police what they are doing to lower traffic fatalities. Even if they don’t reply, that’s a valuable bit of information for the article: “KoROAD declined a statement”

    Max Neupert 2 years ago Reply

    • Hey Max,

      thank you very much for the great feedback!

      Regarding the first comment, you are totally right. I changed the baseline because otherwise the charts would have long bars and the change wouldn’t be really visible. I should have mentioned in the text that the baseline here is not 0 and that a false impression can be created by the graphs. I wanted to focus on the development in the last ten years and the accompanying text should have described the changes but I now see that it could be done better.

      I’ll answer the second and third comment together: The trend is very alarming. 90% of Koreans live in urbanized areas and a large majority in high-dense cities but their cars (big SUVs as you mentioned) are totally inadequate for this situation. I also read the KoRoad plans in the report when I wrote this article but I didn’t include it because the intention of my blog post was to describe the recent development of traffic accidents by looking at the statistics. On purpose, I didn’t include any plans, visions or targets. So, it was a very descriptive post, trying to stay somehow neutral even though staying neutral is almost impossible. Thank you very much for expecting more from Kojects. We should really try to interact more with authorities and get their statements on the topics.

      I’ll keep your comments in mind for future articles!

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply

  • I am a product designer in Korea. I am planning to make a wearable safety garment for pedestrians at night in order to my graduate thesis.

    I am very happy to see this all data and analyse of traffic accident of Korea.
    However, I would like to know more what is the specific reason of accident at night at Korea. I hope I can see another article about this and I am wondering the numbers of accident is also related with Korean “Fast Fast” culture in psychology.

    kimhaejin 1 year ago Reply

    • Hello Haejin,

      thank you for your comment. Regarding your question, accidents at night are often caused by drunk driving and lower levels of visibility. I like your idea about developing a safety clothes for pedestrians.
      Please also read this article where I discuss the issue of visibility and responsibility of traffic crashes:

      Please update me on your progress of your thesis, as it sounds very interesting. Let me know if you have any questions (also via email).

      Thank you!

      Nikola 1 year ago Reply

      • Thank you for letting me know after road for children, I think it is great idea in order to keep safety for children.
        Yes^^ I will let you know my project about safety!
        It can be glad to share in Kojects.

        Kimhaejin 1 year ago Reply

  • I’ve lived in Daegu, South Korea since 2004. Soon after moving here (to teach), I bought a little 125cc motorcycle a few months after. I’d ridden for years prior, and trusted my skills and instincts. About 8 months later, however, a drunk driver headed in my direction slower than the posted 50kmh along the right shoulder whipped a four-lane u-turn in front of me. I hit his driver-side front quarter panel head on and landed in the hospital for a month with a broken pelvis and some nasty scrapes. That was in February of 2005.

    My take on road safety here mostly regards enforcement. Everything seems to be about traffic cameras, and traffic stops are few and far between in my experience. One just doesn’t see them except on rare occasion. Add to that the fact that so many drivers–and all taxis, which are EVERYWHERE–have on-board navigation that verbally warns of upcoming traffic cameras (and down to what speed they should reduce) and you have a real mess on your hands.

    There are other factors, such as population density and culture. Korea is half the size of Florida and is home to 50 million people! But get this; it’s 70% mountainous! So everybody is crammed into cities. It’s nuts! Factor in the speed at which this country has modernized along with its lack of respect for public safety in general, and it’s a recipe for disaster after disaster. I see babies in the front seat of cars, nestled in the arms of a restrained mother or grandmother and toddlers just jumping around car cabins free as they please. Remember the Sewol disaster where hundreds of high school students died on that ferry? Yeah, that was actually emblematic of the attitude toward safety here. Unsafe modifications to the ship and substandard pre-departure inspection played roles. I’ve walked down city streets here and encountered massive trucks with outriggers deployed and long booms with huge signs hung aloft for hanging on the side of a building while. pedestrians. walked. under. the. signs. overhead. OSHA inspectors, don’t come to Korea. You’ll suffer a coronary in the first week here.

    I drove to Seoul once and saw a sheet on the highway with a body under it. I don’t drive many highway miles, either. It’s common to see tow trucks lined up on the shoulder here, too. When I see them, I’m reminded of the Indianapolis 500. But for airbags and crumple zones, fatalities would be much higher here, I’d imagine.

    I’ll close with a question to accompany the link I’m attaching. If enforcement were a deterrent, would tow truck drivers carry on like this?

    Eric Nash 1 year ago Reply

  • It’d be good to read what others have to say.

    Eric Nash 1 year ago Reply

Post A Reply