13 November 2008

Gearing up for the road trip

I am less than 48 hours away from my road trip, and I am feeling very excited. I have already done some packing.

Right now, the cold is refusing to go away, but I don't think it'll derail me. Moving around and being out and about makes me feel better than staying bedridden all day.

The weather doesn't look ideal, but it won't derail me either. The first leg of the journey, which will take me over a high mountain pass on Expressway 50, will surely feel chilly, and I can expect a chance of precipitation, but it will be unlikely that there will be any snow accumulation, if it snows at all. If I drive at night, and temperatures are near or below freezing, I can expect icy conditions on bridges; however, I expect to drive during the daytime, when temperatures will certainly be warm enough that icing won't be a risk at all. The rest of the trip should take me through lower altitudes, and driving conditions should be okay.

I'm reviewing all the things I've learned about traffic regulations in South Korea, so that I will be prepared once I do hit the road. I'll certainly learn more once I get on the way, and I will eventually publish it somewhere as a list that other foreign drivers will be able to refer to. For now, here are some key ones I've figured out:
  • Foreign drivers must have an International Driving Permit from their home country. Brazilian and Saudi IDPs are not acceptable.
  • Directional signs are in Korean and English, and maybe Chinese too depending on jurisdiction. However, regulation signs are almost always in Korean only. A working knowledge of "traffic Korean" will be required. It's just like back in the US; while I can test for a driver's license in almost any major language depending on the state, I do need to know enough "traffic English" to pass the road test.
  • Fortunately, most signs use international symbols similar to those found in Europe.
  • Left turns and U-turns are never allowed, unless specifically allowed by signs and/or signals. Follow instructions carefully. Some instructions may be complicated: "U-turn OK when signal is red AND pedestrian signal is green" or something like that. In any case, U-turns must be made at specially marked areas only.
  • Like in North America, the yellow line divides opposing traffic directions. However, they work slightly differently here. A single solid yellow line can be crossed for left turns into a driveway, like the double solid yellow line back in the US. A double solid yellow line, however, is a wall that can never be crossed; the US equivalent would be two sets of double solid yellow lines.
  • Red lights are merely a suggestion. When safe (i.e. very light traffic in the wee hours), it's okay to run a red light - though at your own risk. Cops will look the other way unless you cause a wreck. Honestly, I'd stop first and look carefully before ever running a red light.
  • The rule-of-thumb is that cars have right-of-way over pedestrians, and motorcycles have right-of-way over both. However, a car driver hitting a pedestrian or a motorcycle is automatically guilty of professional negligence.
  • At a pedestrian signal, however, pedestrians always have the right-of-way. It's always illegal to drive through a crosswalk with a green pedestrian signal, even if it means I must otherwise stop in the middle of the intersection. However, if the crosswalk is empty and no pedestrians are anywhere nearby, the "mere suggestion" rule can also apply here, and I can creep through the crosswalk.
  • Right turn on red is perfectly okay, assuming that the pedestrian signal rule is also obeyed.
  • Expressways and national highways often have automated cameras catching speeders. They will be triggered when a car is 5 km/h over the limit - not much leeway. Fortunately, these cameras usually have two warnings beforehand - a few kilometers prior, and 300-450 meters prior. Navigation systems often warn drivers of such speed traps ahead. But sometimes, real cops hide around with laser guns - without notice, without warning.
  • No passing on bridges and in tunnels, unless indicated otherwise. White lines, which separate traffic lanes in the same direction (just like in North America), will be solid instead of broken, to indicate the "no passing" zone. There will also be international pictorial signs to that effect as well.
  • Seat belts must be worn at all times. Many Korean drivers don't bother, however! Also, while hands-free cell phone is recommended, it's not required, at least not yet.
Looking forward to a great drive.