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S. Korea's innovative Traffic Culture Index spotlighted at OECD transport ministers' gathering

May 24, 2024 - 21:09 By Yonhap

Kim Hyun-jin, head of the mobility platform office of the Korean Transportation Safety Authority, speaks at session on South Korea's Traffic Culture Index at the 2024 ITF Summit in Leipzig, Germany, on Thursday. (Yonhap)

In terms of traffic safety, South Korea has seen a remarkable improvement over the past decade across various metrics.

According to the International Transport Forum, the country has seen a 49.2 percent decrease in road deaths between 2012 and 2022. The number of passenger car occupants killed in road crashes dropped by 63.8 percent, while that of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents fell by 54 percent.

Industry experts attribute such improvements to an overall enhancement of public awareness and attitudes involving traffic safety, led by various campaigns and traffic-related programs by national and local traffic authorities throughout the years.

For South Korea, a major tool used in drastically advancing the country's overall traffic safety culture has been the Traffic Culture Index (TCI), which was spotlighted at the 2024 ITF Summit in Leipzig, Germany, this week.

Kim Hyun-jin, head of the mobility platform office of the Korean Transportation Safety Authority, said during an Innovation Talks session at the ITF summit Thursday that the TCI was introduced in order to tackle the country's high traffic fatality rate, which was the biggest among member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1991.

"Safety attitudes are one of the main root causes of traffic accidents and fatalities. The TCI was launched to understand traffic culture and derive policy directions for the reduction of road traffic fatalities," Kim said.

The TCI program was launched in 1998 to measure various traffic-related metrics across cities. Its purpose is to conduct objective research on driving and walking behavior and traffic safety per local government area to identify the current status of Korean traffic culture and compare it by locality.

The program calls for the measuring of 18 different traffic-related criteria -- such as seatbelt wearing, safety helmet wearing of motorcyclists, and mobile phone and infant car seat usage rate -- and uses methods of on-site observations and review of data and surveys.

On-site observers receive training prior to going out to 639 traffic sites for three days each September to observe and record seatbelt wearing rates and that of people using mobile devices at crosswalks.

The TCI for the country and 229 cities are announced annually in January.

Kim stressed the importance of the TCI program, saying, "traffic culture affects drivers' and pedestrians' perception of risk, behavioral patterns and how they interact with each other."

"It ultimately impacts the frequency and severity of crashes. Announcing the TCI of all cities can induce voluntary efforts by local governments involving road safety," he said.

In particular, South Korea's TCI differentiates itself from other global traffic safety-related indexes, as it mixes surveys, statistical reviews and on-site observations.

According to the KTSA, similar indexes in countries such as the United States, Britain or Sweden rely solely on either surveys or statistical reviews.

"It would help other countries improve their traffic safety if they adopt similar programs," Kim said, but noted that South Korea's case has proven a success in part due to its current physical size, and that introducing similar projects in countries larger in size could be difficult.

According to Kim, South Korea has seen a clear improvement in terms of reducing traffic accident fatalities since the TCI adoption. The country's traffic accident fatalities, which were tallied at 6,166 in 2007, have dropped to 2,735 in 2022.

Kim also underscored the importance of behavioral changes in drivers and pedestrians to maximize traffic safety, and that traffic authorities needed to better address not only traffic accident fatalities but casualties as well.