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:
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.
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:
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:
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.