Looking back just 30 or 40 years ago, Jeju had very few cars on the roads, and many of those were still unpaved.
This has meant that island driving is a bit different from what one might encounter on the mainland, or, for that matter, in other countries.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to see older people, particularly in the countryside, just walking right across a highway. It may be a route they’ve taken for years and the road just gets in the way.
Statistics indicate that almost half of all traffic fatalities in Jeju are pedestrians.
And there is what is known locally as the “Seogwipo stop.” On country roads and highways, there are quite a few drivers who simply drive right through a red light. To people new to Jeju and new to driving, this sort of blatant flaunting of the rules of the road can be really unnerving.
So, if you ask what kinds of safety issues arise for drivers in Jeju, a number of areas are clearly problematic.
For one, the area around the airport is probably one of the more dangerous places to drive, simply because of all the tourists who have just gotten behind the wheel of their rental cars.
Either they’re unfamiliar with the route out of the city and will be distracted by the GPS unit, or perhaps they’re even be even a bit rusty behind the wheel. Visitors from Seoul, for example, perhaps don’t even own a car because the public transportation system is so good.
Clearly, defensive driving is the key, since statistics on Jeju road accidents can be alarming.
The Road Traffic Authority recorded 3,459 accidents on Jeju in 2011. 106 people died and 5,108 were injured. In 2012 there were 3,869 accidents on Jeju. 5,726 were injured and 92 deaths.
Interestingly, though, these numbers are quite similar to statistics from 1990. Even with the increased numbers of cars on the road, people are driving more safely than 30 years ago, and the safety features of cars are saving lives.
If you do get into an accident more serious than a fender bender, you may need assistance from the police. The best option is to dial 112 and asking for an English speaker. The police officer who answers will arrange for an interpreter to join you on the line. This may take a bit of time, so don’t hang up.
This service is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.
And if you do inadvertently, or not so inadvertently, break the law on Jeju’s roads, chances are you won’t so much be pulled over by an officer as receive a ticket in the mail.
So if you are a long-term resident who has moved homes multiple times, be sure to go down to the DMV to change your address. Unpaid fines can be mailed to your old address and accumulate into the range of hundreds of thousands of won.
One more hint for drivers in Korea. If you do find yourself out late and “over the limit” but unwilling to leave your car behind, there is a service called daeriunjeon (대리운전) which will send a driver to your location to take you and your car home. Then a second car will pick him up.
Surprisingly, this is a life saving service which is very reasonably priced. It may cost just 20,000 or 30,000 won to get home, but obviously it saves time and more importantly, it saves lives.
To learn more about the complete list of infractions and fines in Korea, or to find out how to get a Korean license, there are a number of options, including the provincial government Web site which has that information at english.jeju.go.kr. Just enter the keyword “driving”.
Another great resource is the Road Traffic Authority. It has a good refresher on road signs, which most drivers would be well advised to review at some point. They have two sites in English which you can find from www.koroad.or.kr.
And finally, the police also have an English site with a lot of statistics at www.police.go.kr/eng.
This a reworked article, written by the author, which first appeared on KCTV English News. — Ed.