Between A Rock and A Hard Place

Yesterday I was on my way to an appointment traveling along one of the busiest roads in Taichung. I was almost to where the road goes in a short tunnel under railroad tracks. I had been fiddling with my scarf with one hand but realized I should probably focus while in the tunnel because the scooters have a pretty narrow lane separating them from the cars- a concrete barrier on one side and concrete wall on the other.

The scooters in front of me slowed temporarily while entering the tunnel to adjust to the light but then picked up speed quite a bit. I noted  that one scooter was not picking up speed.

While driving here, I regularly check my mirrors to gauge if anyone is coming up in a blind spot before moving in any direction; while in the tunnel I briefly glanced in my mirrors and I noticed I had someone uncomfortably close to me and lightly tapped my brakes a few times to signal to him to back the heck off. He moved back a bit.

Almost immediately after that interaction I realized I had all but caught up to the scooter that hadn’t been picking up speed. Upon further scrutiny I realized that the driver was losing control of their scooter. I started braking quickly and veering to the left- away from the direction the scooter was peeling and stupidly close to the concrete barrier. As the driver and scooter hit the concrete wall I wobbled by doing my best not to hit the driver or the concrete wall. She fell off of her scooter. The group of scooters down the tunnel started to brake.

The scooter who had been tailing me stopped just before running the fallen driver over. I rolled to a stop several feet past the woman and jumped off my scooter to help her retrieve the contents of her scooter which had fallen out of the storage compartment when it hit the wall. More scooters we coming down the tunnel.

The driver that had been tailing me helped the woman get up and helped upright her scooter. I waited until the man helping her checked to see if she was okay, then hopped on my scooter and continued on my journey, shaken, but okay.


Riding a scooter in Taiwan has been one of my favorite experiences here. I love it! It’s so fun and on a sunny day, there is nothing better than jumping on and riding around Taichung.

As much as I love it, riding a scooter in Taichung is very very dangerous. Defensive driving is necessary 100% of the time. You can’t get sidetracked, even for a second.

Following the laws doesn’t always equate to a safe ride. For example if you are driving in a pack of scooters when you come to a light, it doesn’t matter if the light is red or green, it matters what the scooters around you are doing. If they all brake? You had better be braking. Conversely, the light could be turning red, but if the three scooters around you are pressing forward it is safer just to move with them. In that way, speed can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing if you need to speed up to circumvent an accident or another vehicle. It’s a curse because speed is the reason why most drivers lose control.

Lanes here work a bit differently as well. If you are on a road with two lanes going in one direction, with an addition lane that sometimes has parked cars, you don’t have 3 lanes you are dealing with. You more likely have like 13. Let me demonstrate…

See here? there are like 7 scooters lined up across in a line. If you are on the far right (in front of the car) and actually need to turn right you are crossing 6 scooters (or "lanes") to do so. That's hell of a lot more than 1 lane.

See here? You might think you are only dealing with perhaps 2 lanes- the lane with the bus and the lane with the car. But if you notice there are at least 7 scooters lined up in front. If you are on the far right (in front of the car) and actually need to turn right you are crossing 7 scooters (or “mini lanes”) to do so. That’s a hell of a lot more than 3 “lanes”.

I love scooting but in traffic or rain it is incredibly exhausting and  you can find yourself in sticky situations, like the story I related above.

This is a photo of Taiwan Boulevard, probably the largest street in Taichung. If you look closely on the right side you can see 2 lanes, and then another 2 lane separated by some shrubbery. The separated lane (on the far far right) is designated for scooters. HOWEVER, buses also can use the lane, and cars who plan who turning off of the street. This is what creates being "between a rock and a hard place." There might be a bus on your right who is trying to merge into the left lane, a car on your left, and 3 scooters in front of and behind you. I've only actually been like "oh shoot, I'm going to be squished like a bug" a few times, but it only takes one time to cause unfathomable damage to you and your bike.

This is a photo of Taiwan Boulevard, probably the largest street in Taichung. If you look closely on the right side you can see 2 lanes, and then another 2 lanes separated by some shrubbery. The separated lane (on the far far right) is designated for scooters. HOWEVER, buses can also use the lane, and cars who plan to turn off of the street. This is what creates being “between a rock and a hard place.” There might be a bus on your right who is trying to merge into the left lane, a car on your left, and 3 scooters in front of and behind you. I’ve only actually been like “oh shoot, I’m going to be squished like a bug” a few times, but it only takes one time to cause unfathomable damage to you and your bike.

I really do take far more precautions here than I do at home. I intentionally bought a really slow scooter. It’s 50cc so it’s only goes up to like 60 km/ hour. For the record that is like 40 miles/hour. So when I’m ABSOLUTELY gunning it I tap out at like 42 miles an hour. That’s pretty slow when some of the scooters next to me can get up to 150 km/hour or about 90 miles/ hour.

I always have on a really attractive helmet that covers my ENTIRE head..

So I often feel like this..

So I often feel like this..

but I can never be too careful. Apparently the most dangerous season here is in May, because there are torrential rainfalls 3 times a day and scooters lose control quite often.

Scooter accidents are quite common. So common that the DMV here is making the scooter test more difficult and limiting those who can take it. In Taiwan in  2009 there was apparently about 17.5 deaths related to scooter accidents per 100,000 people. That means in 2009 there was about 3,850 scooter related deaths total (if Taiwan had 22 million people in 2009). That’s not pretty.

In comparison, there are about 300,000,000 people in the United States, and in 2011 there were 4, 612 deaths due to motorcycle accidents. This comparison is flawed because there are not nearly as many motorcycles in the U.S. as there are scooters in Taiwan, but still it gives you an idea.

I do think that, generally speaking, I feel safer riding a scooter here than I would in the U.S. Scooters have more sway here. In terms of who owns the road I think it goes: big trucks/ construction vehicles, scooters, cars. Scooters do what they want, and there is a rhythm to traffic that generally makes sense. In the U.S. people are not hard wired to look out for motorcycles so I believe that makes it more dangerous.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I just wanted to try and share this to give people a glimpse at what scooting here is like. It is simultaneously the most wonderful/thrilling and terrifying/dangerous thing I do here.

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