I remember the first time I consciously thought about driving in Taiwan and how it may have been somewhat different than what I had been accustomed to, based upon my country of origin.
I have come to imagine there are many factors that contribute to the driving environment in Taiwan. Mixed use lanes, turn boxes, and just plain old differing traffic laws compared to other locales make up the wonderment and excitement that is: Driving in Taiwan.
The first time I remember consciously thinking of this would be fifteen to twenty minutes into my first cab ride in-country. Up to this point, only airline travel, and concourse walking had given me an impression of what would or could be traffic patterns.
“The driver and I were waiting for the light to turn in our favor at a traffic control signal.”
I had exited the airport in Kaohsiung, and was taking in the night sights as they rolled by: billboards, cars in other lanes, and all that the view from the back seat had to offer. The driver and I were waiting for the light to turn in our favor at a traffic control signal. The light then turned from red to green as was expected.
Several seconds after we had begun crossing the intersection, a motorcycle and attached driver shot out from the side street to our left (more of a bridge really), crossed directly in front of the taxi, running the light, and disappeared again off to our right. In what seemed like a flash of color and an audible explosion of the motorcycle’s engine piercing the calm night, the very real potential for collision had passed.
“The cab driver’s acknowledgement, despite our speaking differing languages served to let me know he and I were on the same side of this issue,”
At this point, my heart seemed to skip a beat, my breath held slightly in my chest, and I realized that the motorcycle driver had gone by without incident, save for my louder than normal verbal reaction. The cab driver’s acknowledgement, despite our speaking differing languages served to let me know he and I were on the same side of this issue, though his reaction was visibly more contained. For this situation, body language conveyed the message, though my shocked exhale of “What the ___!?!” may have imparted some meaning.
This is when I realized that driving here was going to be different.
“You may recognize some of these driving behaviors,”
Now, as I drive around the city, I have come to recognize differing driving patterns that often repeat themselves in different individuals. Because of this, I have given each character type a somewhat applicable name, and as arbitrary as this is, it serves to identify the driving type. You may recognize some of these driving behaviors, and have more of your own to add.
Firstly, there are the different perspectives to be had. In other words, if you are driving a car, truck, or van, you are naturally going to have a differing attitude and driving style than that of a scooter driver. So, let’s begin by immediately creating two categories, cars and scooters. As general as this is, it will serve the purposes of this endeavor.
Additionally, any one of us may have played one of these characters from time to time.
As always, slow driving, or driving away from the pack to increase reaction time will increase your chances of happy driving, and/or survival.
The first character is a car driver, and this person can be seen inching their way into an intersection bit by bit, despite any traffic that may or may not be coming in any given direction. I can often imagine the song ‘Slow Ride’ playing on their sound system as they practice these precision moves. Not typically dangerous, but to be avoided.
The Double Parker
This character is what makes driving interesting in Taiwan. Bar none, this blatant act of parking in the rightmost lane will make an instant chaos inducing obstacle course for even the most harmonious of driving groups. Keep your eyes open, and avoid at all costs. May induce superman-like flying maneuvers over scooter handlebars or the overtaking of bicycle riders if not seen in time.
The Right Hook
Despite the misleading name, this character will make a left turn from the opposite lane directly in front of you at the most inopportune time, regardless of your approaching speed. It appears as though this driver has a personal vendetta against scooter drivers, randomly choosing victims to determine the exact force at which airbag deployment systems will activate. The best defense against this character is to watch them like a hawk and hope they don’t have pinball on their mind.
The U-Turn Bandit
The Bandit will attempt to make U-turns in front of you to gauge your level of appreciation. Like someone playing a game of pool, they don’t always make it on the first shot.
The Bi-Laner is winning in more than one lane. Whether it is because they are just avoiding obstacles, or just like the view, one lane is simply not enough.
Speaking of first shots, parallel parking is an art form. For anyone. Some individuals may take longer than others. Some may take up to 10 minutes to practice the perfect/adequate parking job. Unless you have time to waste, steer clear of this exercise. Some will realize after a time that they just can’t chase the dream of this art form any longer and will quickly transform into the above mentioned Double Parker.
The Master of the Arc
The MOTA is the vehicle which will make a right turn in front of any possible traffic also going the same direction. The most experienced MOTA drivers will attempt this maneuver from three or four lanes over, also veering into a random lane of choice.
The No Looker / Light Cycle Operator
The first character based upon a scooter driver type is the person that will engage in a right turn without stopping or pausing for oncoming traffic from the left. Like a light-cycle operator from the movie TRON, this individual seems to be perfecting an exact 90 degree turn as fast as possible. When encountering one of these personages in training, give them all the space they need to win the game.
The Transporter has made it their mission and temporary life’s work to move not people, but animals. While most of this type will be transporting dogs taking in the scenery, the experienced and much sought-after transporter will be seen with a cat or parrot attached to their shoulder, which signifies mastery of the art form. This character poses no typical danger and generally serves to improve the state of driving.
King of the Turn Box
The King of the Turn Box will position themselves to be in front of all others that are waiting for the light to change in the turn box. This position of dominance is frought with danger, as cars and scooters must veer out of their normal path to avoid hitting them. Respect must be paid to this positioning to avoid collision.
Pencil Skirt Minnie
This character prefers rather than to ride in a car, to ride side-saddle on a scooter. Seeking danger, this person performs a literal balancing act. Increasingly rare due to a legal provision, this character can still be seen from time to time.
Way Cool Junior
Way Cool Jr. will ride a scooter or motorcycle, with a specific sense of attitude. Typically outfitted with a lit, drooping cigarette, the body language of this character says “I just don’t give a _____”. Gripping the handlebars as loosely as possible, the idea is to also lean back and tilt the head to one side slightly. WCJ will never be seen with a helmet or side mirrors.
Way Cool Senior
Unlike WCJ, Way Cool Sr. will wear a helmet, though perhaps from an armed conflict of years past. WCS seems to enjoy the breeze, as you will usually find this person with legs open as wide as possible when driving.
Mad respect must be paid to this character type as they make the city function. Any possible combination of items will be packed onto or attached to said scooters. From recycling bags dragging in the street attached to the back of the bike, to a propane tank, to full-sized dressers, these items will be moved.
The Time Rifter
Speaking of moving, the character of the Time Rifter appears in two flavors. Because balance must be achieved in the universe, these two types directly counteract each other. The first Time Rifter is the type that drives as fast as possible according to the laws of physics. I may have encountered this type when first arriving in Taiwan. Dodging in and out of traffic, the main objective of this driver is to beat the clock, because: it is a race against time.
The second Time Rifter drives slower than one can possibly fathom. If you are stopped along side them, you may not realize they are actually moving. Most noticeable when they are directly in front of you, at this point you may marvel at how they have fine-tuned their engines to slow down the passage of time.
The Vampire is an elusive character, which at no time, under any circumstances can allow the sun to touch their skin. Not necessarily gender specific, because the identity of this character is never revealed, clothing items featuring flowered prints are strangely preferred.
The BK Stacker
The Stacker is one of the most amazing feats of adventurous travel to be witnessed. My personal favorite features 5 people riding on one scooter.
Have you seen more?