More Driving in Korea

Seoul has a carefully laid out network of wide, multilane (2 to 6 lanes in each direction) major streets which were established after the Korean war. The most challenging aspect of these roads (other than the great number of cars, is the transition of lanes. Lanes start and stop with no particular pattern. If you know you need to be in the right lane and just follow a lane, you may find yourself in the left lane as lanes start and stop unexpectedly. Between the major streets are a maze of narrow streets which are more like alleys. If they are wide enough for two cars, parking usually reduces them back to one lane. The rest of the country has a network of modern expressways which lead to a local road system which winds through the mountains.

The traffic mix is part of the problem. The trucks and buses do whatever they have to do to get through. Cars dodge around them when they can. A hoard of delivery motorcycles fill in any voids. The motorcycles may have any kind of rack or brace sticking out, so they are a real hazard to pedestrians. As they continue to build new subways and improve the infrastructure, you can count on construction every few miles. Sometimes it moves pretty well and sometimes it's gridlock.

This is a "crew cab" Bongo. Actually the Kia trucks are Bongo's and the Hyundai version is the Porter. They look alike and we call them all Bongos. The most interesting feature is that they have two different size tires. The fronts are 14" and the back has dual 12" tires. This allows a lower flat bed. The short sides hinge down for loading and oversize loads.

This is a microvan. There is a whole series of micro cars, vans and trucks available. They are as tiny as they look but, believe it or not, this thing is advertised to carry 7 people (2+2+3 configuration). Two side by side are crowded. Three in the back would have to be very small people.

This is a Pizza Hut delivery vehicle. At least it has a built in storage compartment. Most of the restaurant delivery is done with large aluminum carriers via motorcycle. The catch is that there is no way to attach the carrier to the bike. So the rider holds it in his hand as he speeds down the streets and alleys and sidewalks. I've never seen one crash but you see close calls every day.

This is the most popular micro car. In an attempt to reverse the trend toward larger cars, they are offering options like air bags and a CVT (constantly variable transmission). The price is also quite low. However, I'm not sure if this makes up for the small size and relatively weak 800 cc engine. These are being exported to many Asian countries.

You can successfully drive here once you learn a couple of things. One is that you can't let your attention lapse for a moment. Cars, buses and motorcycles can come from anywhere at any time. The other thing is that the rules don't seem to apply to everyone. Buses, in particular, only stop at red lights if there seems to be a good reason. If someone ends up in the wrong lane and needs to cross 4 lanes of busy traffic to make a turn, he does it. No one gets too upset as they seem to understand that these things happen and expect it.

I was able to get an English language copy of the Driver Manual when I got a drivers license. It's usually easy to make fun of translated documents but this one was really very good. It actually has a lot more useful information than most U.S. driving books put out by the states. There were a couple of items that left me scratching my head though. One was "Drivers make sure that passengers are not disturbing them, dancing in the car." The other, in the section on security was "If you are abducted in a vehicle, do everything in your power not to disturb traffic in your immediate vicinity including rescuers and police officers."

U.S. and European cars can be seen here but most are owned by either U.S. Army personnel or diplomatic personnel. The Korean industry makes a big deal about how much imports have increased but the total is only a few thousand cars per year. Almost all are luxury cars because it doesn't make sense to pay the import duties on an average car.


Previous Page


Return to Home Page