How to Drive a Car in Taiwan

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By Todd Blackhurst

Driving in Taichung as opposed to most Western countries, specifically America is a very different experience. Here are some tips to help you adjust.

The first is just the simple rule of size. It helps to remember this and don’t try to bend the rules. Train beat the bus, bus beats the truck, truck beats the car, car beats the scooter, scooter beats the person. It is unwise to try to beat a vehicle above your size level. Others have tried, failed and died.

Driver Education for Taiwanese drivers provides no real “on the road” driving experience. The typical driver education course is completed on a closed course where drivers are taught to pass a set of pre-defined “obstacles”. Once completed along with a written test, the driver is given a license and turned loose onto the road. Drivers do not even use their own vehicle, so oftentimes, unless they have been driving illegally, they have no experience with actual real world conditions.

Because of this driver education format, drivers here are not usually taught to think or drive defensively. Therefore, by default, they end up driving in a more offensive style. The easiest way to describe this is, they usually only pay attention to what is happening directly ahead of them, in their field of view. Their rear view and side mirrors are rarely used. Everyone assumes (maybe) that if you pay attention to what is happening in front of you, the system will generally take care of itself, as everyone else does, and to a large degree it does.

However, throw a western trained driver into the mix and things can get gummed up easily. Here are a couple of example.

When turning right at an intersection, it will be your initial tendency to keep looking back over your shoulder to see if the scooters are coming up around you.  You will try to pause and begin stopping and starting to try and keep from hitting someone. However, this is not the way the system functions. If you try to adjust to the scooter coming up from your rear, you will likely cause a wreck or injury. The scooters expect you to go ahead and begin turning. Because you are in front of some of them, they will adjust around you. Just turn, carefully of course, but go ahead and turn, don’t worry too much about what is going on behind you. Worry about the scooter on your front right corner, directly next to you and in front of you. Don’t hit them as you take off. They will quickly take off to try and beat you through the intersection. Let them get out of your way and make your turn.

Another example. Traffic directions (lane markers, turn signals, even policemen) are generally considered more suggestive guides than objective directions. So, the traffic system functions similarly to an ant colony. As cars, scooters, bicycles, other assorted motorized and unmotorized vehicles and pedestrians move through the streets, everyone is expected to exhibit an appropriate amount of give and take. Sometimes you take and sometimes you give. What I mean by this is, if there is an accident, someone decides to turn left or right, make a stop to pick up something from a store, everyone does their part to adjust and keep traffic moving. Give and take is a must. Some give and some take. Do more giving than taking and you will survive. Of course there are those who drive extremely aggressively in all types of vehicles. They expect everyone to adjust around them. It is best to leave these drivers alone. You cannot change them and you may end up being involved in an accident or altercation which could end poorly.

You will not change the driving habits here by honking excessively or driving aggressively. You will cause accidents, hurt someone and potentially make the wrong person angry and find yourself in a situation you are unprepared to handle.

We recommend you get a Taiwan Driver’s License as quickly as possible after arriving, make sure you carry plenty of insurance (what Taiwanese will consider excessive) and drive very carefully.

If you are in an accident, or hurt someone, make sure you also have the appropriate numbers on the ready to call.

If you would like some one on one driver training with an experienced western driver on the roads of Taichung, don’t hesitate to ask. We can help you understand road signs, program your GPS, show you how to get around and understand this crazy city.

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