On September 11, 2019, there was an accident involving nine-year-old Kim Min-sik who was killed by a car at a crosswalk installed in front of Onyang Middle School in Asan, South Chungcheong Province. Death in a child protection zone constitutes one of the major traffic accident violations in Korea, meaning an attacker can be arrested, so the driver of the vehicle was thus arrested. Then, on November 20, 2019, Kim Min-sik’s parents posted a message to the Cheong Wa Dae People’s Petition, asking for the passage of a new law called “Min-sik’s Law” with 210,000 petitioners agreeing to it within a single day.
The vehicle maintained the speed limit at 23.6km/h, which didn’t exceed the 30km/h limit of the school zone at that time. This is why there was at the time considerable controversy over whether the cause of the incident was only the fault of the driver. Also, there had been another controversy regarding the law’s excessive punishment. Although there was a lot of debate, Min-sik’s law was passed at a regular session of the National Assembly on December 10, 2019.
Following the Min-sik incident, on January 7, 2020, the government announced a measure to strengthen traffic safety in school zones. The government set up this measure with a plan to reduce the number of children killed in school zones to zero in 2020. According to the measure, the vehicle’s speed limit in a school zone is designated at 30km/h, while in areas without walking space the speed limit is lowered further to below 20km/h. Also, a mandatory stop has to be made on crosswalks without traffic lights in every school zone to eliminate the practice of drivers who don’t have safety awareness. Furthermore, unmanned traffic control equipment, traffic lights, and safety barriers will be installed in all child protection zones, and all illegal street parking lots located within the school zone will be removed by 2020. The fine to be imposed for parking violations in these zones will be strengthened from 80,000 won to 120,000 won which is three times the current standard road fine.
Looking at similar environments abroad, there is a ‘Home Zone’ system in the UK and Sweden. The UK and Sweden’s home zones go beyond the Korean school zone policy in that they have more thorough standards. The ‘Home Zone’ is designed to allow pedestrians as well as children to operate freely and safely from the dangers of traffic accidents. In the home zone area, gateways are installed at entrances of each home zone to make it easier for pedestrians and drivers to observe the difference between home zone areas and other regular streets. Also, on roadways around the school, 20-centimeter-high protective barriers are installed to prevent any vehicles from entering the school.
In the case of the U.S., the speed limit within the school zone is 30km/h, which is similar to Korea. If the traffic law in the school zone is violated, the drivers must pay double the existing fine. School bus laws in particular are stronger than the traffic laws of Korea. When children are picked up or dropped off, other vehicles must never overtake the school bus. Also, even vehicles in the opposite lane must stop or slow down to pass the bus.
However, Article 93 of the Road Traffic Act, which is related to school buses in Korea, only states “The bus driver should turn on the emergency lights while children are getting on and off the bus and should also let children get to a safe place, check, and then leave”. According to the Korea Institute for Children’s Traffic Safety, while accidents involving children account for 70% of all traffic accidents in Korea, they only account for about 20-30% of the total traffic accidents in Sweden or the U.S.
In conclusion, Korea has a considerably higher rate of traffic accidents involving children than other developed countries. The Seowon News hopes that not only Korean drivers but also pedestrians will have more peaceful and safe lives with the newly enacted measures to enhance traffic safety in school zones this year.