10 Tips For Driving A Scooter In Taiwan

This is a guest post by blogger Dominic Le Croissette.

Photograph by Jim Epler

If you are planning on moving to Taiwan or just making a visit, the chances are high that you’ll find yourself astride a scooter at some point. Whether you’re crossing the city between teaching jobs or beach-hopping on the Kenting peninsula, here’s what you should know before setting off on the road:

1. No turn signals and no horns

Bystanders gape as the foreigner blasts his horn, gesticulates wildly, and screams abuse at the inconsiderate car driver who almost killed him and a dozen other scooter drivers with a random left turn. The offending driver responds with a slack-jawed look of utter surprise. Meanwhile, local drivers silently and stoically continue on their way, seemingly taking their near-death experience in their stride.

2. Driving on crossings and sidewalks

You’ve just missed the lights and waiting for them to change is going to add 45 seconds to your journey. Never fear, you can cut a sneaky left across the pedestrian crossing, executing a high-speed swerving manoeuvre around a gaggle of schoolchildren and a mom with a baby, before blasting back into the road and continuing your journey. Can’t be bothered to park your scooter and walk to the store? No problem, just drive on the sidewalk right up to the door! As every Taiwanese driver knows, the most important thing is your own convenience, not other road users’ safety.

3. Smile for the camera

These small grey boxes are situated at intersections, on highway dividers, or concealed behind a tree next to an invitingly straight and fast section of road. If you trigger one, you’ll receive a rear view photo in the mail along with a demand for a fine, which increases with each subsequent offense. There are speed cameras and traffic signal cameras all over southern Taiwan, and their numbers appear to be increasing fast. Follow the lead of the locals; if everyone suddenly drives inexplicably slowly, then you should too. And don’t creep over the white line at traffic lights if there are pressure pads on the road and a camera looming behind you.

4. Never look back

Need to merge from a side street onto a busy highway? Go ahead! There’s no need for even a quick glance to see if any traffic is coming, because if anyone hits you it is completely their fault. In other words, exactly like the rules of a ski slope, but with far deadlier consequences when it all goes wrong. Locals care little for what is behind them, meaning they seldom use their mirrors. However, mirrors seem to be making a comeback among young drivers, because they’re handy to apply make-up while on the move, or to make duck faces while waiting at the lights.

5. Use the scooter lane

First, the good news: scooters have their own lane on many Taiwanese roads, which puts a few extra precious inches between your soft flesh and speeding trucks. The bad news: using the scooter lane requires extreme levels of concentration and skill, in order to avoid oncoming bicycles, illegally parked vehicles, randomly opening car doors, pedestrians (because the sidewalk is usually clogged with parked scooters), dogs, fireworks (I’m not joking), and just about everything else you can imagine.

6. Never turn left

In Taiwan, there’s a rule that small scooters and motorcycles – anything under 250cc – may not make a direct left turn. So on a green light, you must proceed straight ahead to the other side of the intersection, then wait in the designated box for the traffic light of the intersecting road to turn green. This is a time-consuming exercise particularly if you’ve just missed the lights going straight ahead; it means you have to wait twice at the same intersection before you can proceed. Needless to say, this rule is often ignored by local drivers.

7. The world’s smallest school bus

Mommy or daddy (or both) picks the kids up from school on an ancient scooter. Everyone piles aboard, but there aren’t enough helmets to go around. But that’s OK, because they’re only driving two blocks. Everyone knows accidents never happen on short journeys, right?

8. Beware of blue and yellow

Red traditionally signifies danger, but that color is of limited usefulness in a country where running red lights is ingrained in the national psyche. Instead, savvy scooterists are alert to anything blue or yellow. Blue is for the little delivery trucks, found especially in janky little suburbs and farming communities, driven by blank-eyed delivery men with low levels of spatial awareness. Yellow is for the sinister taxis, on the prowl for fares in a big city near you, who will stop at nothing – even murder – in order to collect that fare-paying passenger from the opposite curb.

9. Know your enemy

The licence plate color of a scooter or motorcycle denotes engine capacity. Each kind of bike presents certain hazards to other road users. A brief rundown of each type is as follows:

Green plate: 50cc or below. Painfully slow, and invariably belching clouds of smoke from the exhaust. Seemingly only ancient ones exist. Don’t get behind one at the traffic lights.

White plate: 51-250cc. Most scooters and small motorcycles fall into this category. They range from shiny and expensive, to rather old and dilapidated (the latter the typical transportation choice of expat English teachers). Beware of disco-lit modified ones, usually driven by helmetless youths with a death wish.

Yellow plate: 251-550cc. Uncommon in cities, but can be encountered in the mountains on weekends when they travel in packs. Usually, yellow-platers are enormous scooters – not motorcycles – and the typical rider is a middle-aged man whose priority is comfort rather than speed. Beware of really bad music mixes emanating from the built-in sound systems of the luxury models.

Red plate: above 550cc. You’ll find these exotic beasts on weekends on the open road, usually in packs according to type. Sport bikers will be wearing full leathers and maintaining a minimum speed of 100mph, while the Harley riders are middle-aged chief executives with fake tattoos.

10. Get yourself a proper helmet!

And please do yourself a favour and spring for a full -faced one (that is unless you only value the top half of your head). Look for one that has a “DOT” sticker on it, signifying it is certified by the Department of Transportation.

About the Author:

Dominic Le Croissette has spent many weeks touring the north-west of Thailand by motorcycle, on bikes ranging from a 100cc Honda Dream to a 650cc Kawasaki Ninja and almost everything in between. He currently lives in Taiwan, where he spends his free time exploring the island on his Kawasaki Ninja. You can check out more of his adventures on his blog BirdingAroundTaiwan.com

Advertisements

Comments

  1. 50 CC is a dying breed, no longer made, new the smallest you can buy now is 90cc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: