Updated March. 20, 2013 06:00
On March 12 at 11:30 p.m., the driver of inter-city bus No. 1000 that links central Seouls Gwanghwamun area with Ilsan New Town of the northern Seoul suburb of Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, began to speed.
The road was wet due to rain that began in the afternoon, but the driver did not care. With some 10 passengers on board, the bus began speeding on an 8-kilometer section starting from Susaek Road in Seouls Sedaemun district to Joongang road in Goyang.
The speed limit on this road is 60 kilometers (37.5 miles) per hour due to the many pedestrians, as the area comprises both residential and commercial districts. Nevertheless, the bus sped up to 85 kilometers (52 miles) on a road that was not a highway. On Susaek Road alone, five people were killed in 2011 due to speeding buses.
On March 13 at 12:30 a.m., bus No. 830 that goes from Yeongdeungpo Post Office in Seoul to Ilsan began accelerating when it entered Gangbyeon Highway after crossing Yanghwa Bridge, and considerably exceeded the speed limit of 80 kilometers (49 miles). As the bus entered Jayu Road, where the speed limit is 90 kilometers (55 miles), it accelerated to 92 and 93 kilometers (57 miles). A navigational system that a Dong-A Ilbo reporter was holding read 97 kilometers (60.4 miles) per hour, as the bus rapidly passed passenger cars.
When the bus exited Jayu to enter the Seoul Metropolitan Beltway, it hurriedly reduced speed but nearly hit a passenger car when trying to change lanes without turning on its signal. Three passengers standing in the bus shook in fear. Passengers sitting in seats were also forced to excessively lean toward a side. After angrily honking for a long time, the bus driver sped up again to 90 kilometers.
○ Often exceeding speed limit by 20 kilometers (12.7 miles)
The Dong-A investigative reporting team and the Korea Transportation Safety Authority observe traffic violations by seven inter-city buses run by two capital area bus companies. Both companies ranked among the top in the number of speeding violations over the past three months in the region. Members of the team and the transit authority rode buses more than 20 times between Feb. 15 and March 12. Reporters got on between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. All of the buses were inter-city ones that link Ilsan, Suwon, Paju and Incheon with Seoul and are often heavily crowded. The team analyzed the digital driving data recorders of the buses for five months from September last year to Feb. 14. The devices are designed to automatically record driving data, including speed, use of the brake and accelerators and driving hours.
All of the buses that the team rode seemed like time bombs of excessive speeding, with dozens of passengers on board. They at times accelerated to above 80 kilometers per hour in residential areas such as Susaek and Banpo roads, where countless people are on the move amid the heavy concentration of apartment complexes and schools there. On express ways such as the Seoul Metropolitan Beltway, Jayu Road and Uiwang Junction, buses changed lanes in a zigzag form to speed up.
Inter-city bus No. 1500 linking Seouls Yeongdeungpo district with Paju would speed more than 80 kilometers per hour near Daehwa subway station in Goyang, where the speed limit is 60 kilometers. Inter-city buses Nos. 3007, 7000 and 7001 linking Suwon with the Gangnam and Yangjae districts of Seoul would also speed aggressively as soon as they exited urban areas.
Buses habitually sped in urban areas with a speed limit of 60 kilometers per hour, as well as on expressways, including Jayu Road and Uiwang junctions on the Gwacheon-Bongdam Expressway. One 41-year-old passenger who rides No. 3007 said, Buses are driving too violently. I even thought about calling the bus company due to anxiety because I felt like I was threatened by a lethal weapon.
An analysis of the data recorders suggested that buses from both companies sped 12.6 times on average per 10-kilometer (6.3 mile) distance. A speeding violation was determined whenever a bus exceeded the speed limit by more than 20 kilometers per second. Considering that inter-city buses travel more than 50 kilometers on average, they effectively commit speeding violations 62 times on average per trip.
○ Growing safety fears over shock of sudden braking or collision
To measure the shock to passengers from a sudden braking on a bus, the Dong-A team visited the transportation authoritys traffic safety education center in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province. The test speed was merely 10 kilometers per hour.
Ha Seung-woo, a professor at the educational development division at the agency, said, Please fasten your seat belts and hold your handle tightly.
The bus was moving at a slow speed, but the moment sudden braking was applied, the reporter sitting in a seat felt a shock so powerful that he hit his head on the seat in front of him. If a bus hits another vehicle at a speed of 100 kilometers (63 miles) per hour, the passengers have a 99.9-percent chance to suffer severe injury. Also, the chance of a passenger in such a bus to suffer a fatal injury is nine times higher than if the bus hit the vehicle at 48 kilometers (29 miles) per hour," Ha said.
The number of traffic accidents involving buses exceeds 8,000 each year in Korea, or around a third of that of accidents involving taxis (30,00O), but the number of deaths is similar. In 2010, the number of traffic accidents involving buses was about 8,300 cases and that of accidents involving taxis was 28,000 cases, but the number of deaths was higher in bus accidents. Buses speeding also poses a major threat to pedestrians, with 117 killed after being run over by buses in 2011. One office worker, said, When an inter-city bus passes by while I wait at a bus stop on a median divide, I feel really in danger. Will authorities crack down on their speeding only after a bus runs over a bus stop and causes a massive accident that kills many?"
Bus drivers say they have no choice but to speed in the morning and evening rush hours, adding that many passengers pressure them to speed and that they must keep interval times. A driver of bus No. 1000 said, We`re fiercely competing with other bus companies that operate buses on a similar path, adding, We feel a sense of crisis that we can`t afford to drive slowly alone.