I was driving north on WenXin Lu, Monday, August 20, 2012, at 10:45am, on my scooter. Coming off the traffic light at Daye Lu, heading towards Dalong Lu, I attempted to merge right (from the right-hand lane into the scooter lane). I felt something hit the right rear of my scooter and turned my head to see a guy on a white Yamaha Cuxi go crashing into the ground. Immediately pulling over, I got off my ride to see the rider of the Cuxi was trapped under his scooter, between the scooter lane and right-hand lane. I ran over, lifted the bike off of him, and put it upright while he continued to lay on the street.
Taiwan is a bit strange. Police want you to leave everything at the scene of an accident as it was when the accident happened. But, when a guy is trapped under a scooter, I’m not about to raise it up only to drop it back down again. They need to just get over it. I didn’t move it off the road, nor did I remove the guy from the road – I am not a fan of moving people who have just been crushed into the pavement. I’ve had accidents before where people not only removed me off the road, but pulled off my helmet, as well. I wanted to punch them all in their faces, but I was busted and bleeding and…whatever. But, for those who don’t know – you don’t want to move people with possible neck injuries – and pulling a helmet off their head is particularly stupid, in that case.
He lay on the ground and I crouched next to him, because I don’t leave people behind, either, and was he had abrasions on his left wrist and elbow as well as a crushed right ankle. He got up a minute later and it was clear he suffered no “real damage.” True to Taiwanese form, two women on scooters were jabbering away and one pulled out a phone to call the police. Now I’m thinking, “Great. Here we go.” Two scooter cops drove up to the scene within two minutes from placing the call. Pretty impressive response time. I got on my phone to call my girlfriend, who I was going to pick up (the reason for my driving, at the time)
As soon as they started talking, I started taking flak from them. I was carrying no ID and they clearly wanted to know why I had moved my scooter off the road (not understanding that my scooter never fell down). Fortunately, my girlfriend showed up fifteen minutes later, and began translating. The police asked if I had a license…and this is where it gets funny. According to information given to me at the Taiwan Consulate in the USA, a US license is valid in Taiwan with an international permit. According to the police here, however: it’s not. But it gets better. When I asked the DMV if I could get a driver’s license in Taiwan, they told me I couldn’t without a resident visa – though, their website says nothing of the kind. In other words, if you are a foreigner in Taiwan, you are unable to legally operate a vehicle. How insane is that?
If you drive to Canada or Mexico, your license is valid. In fact, this is the very concept of International Driving Permits, which are simple translations of your home-based license into a variety of languages, for any country to be able to recognize and understand. Taiwan’s policy seems to be either arbitrary to the point of ridiculousness…or simply not actually understood by anyone here. That’s to be expected, however, as most people – cops, businesses, or regular folk – have never had an experience dealing with a foreigner. My bank told me they couldn’t access my account without the Alien Resident Card Number I opened it with – only after asking to see a manager was I told that it was no problem as long as I had my passport. This is a pattern here, if you have read my Carrefour entry a few weeks back.
The cops said I would have to be ticketed for driving without a license, but that never happened (or, at least, hasn’t happened yet). In the meantime, the other driver’s parents and brother pulled up in two cars, an ambulance arrived, and two cop cars rolled up, relieving the scooter cops. I always say that overkill is underrated. At 11:00am, I was given a breathalyzer test, which is standard operating procedure for any accident where the police are called. I blew a 0.0, as did the other guy. Big shocker there, considering I don’t drink and…well…it was 11am on a Monday morning. Before the police arrived, I had taken a look at the two scooters and figured out what had happened, and told the police my story.
As I attempted to merge right – using my turn signal to indicate the motion – the Cuxi to my ~5-o’clock was unprepared for that (whether due to speed, lack of hands on the brakes, or general unawareness) and his front fender clipped my exhaust. I never saw the guy until I turned around, so I have no idea what happened – I always check my blind spot by turning my head, and I didn’t see him when I started the merge, so I truly have no clue how he got clipped. But, anyone who knows how bikes work knows that the centrifugal force of the front wheel creates lean due to “counter-steering” – his wheel was force right, causing his bike to lay down on its left, trapping him under it in the process.
Blame is something for the police to determine, but I find it unlikely that the accident was my fault. Generally, the vehicle to the rear has greater visibility and therefore has the responsibility to yield. It’s why saying “the guy cut me off and braked suddenly” is not an acceptable excuse for rear-ending someone, even if it’s 100% true. The police needed me to give a statement and needed me back at the police station – they were nice enough to not only give me a ride, but drop my girlfriend back at her apartment, as well. They were both really nice guys, especially the guy who gave me the – he even gave me the mouthpiece “for souvenir,” he said. Funny guy.
What’s the inside of a Taiwanese cop car like? A lot like a taxi. There’s no shield in between the front and back seats – no adjustments to anything inside the vehicle, at all, beyond the radio/GPS/windshield-mounted video recorder. I was told by the cops that it takes a serious offense to even be handcuffed, here – most times, if arrests are to be made, they call in the cavalry and are never even a part of it. Again, they love the overkill. Standard DUI checkpoints involve two cars, five cops, and at least two AR-15 assault rifles…in a country that has the least-armed population next to Japan. But a lot of law here is really ambiguous. For example, it’s illegal to carry “certain knives,” but only at certain times and certain places – but if you have a decent reason for carrying it, police tend to turn a blind-eye. Having a 3″-4″ blade on you would require you stating that it is for self-defense for the police to charge you for it – otherwise, you have a knife on you because you were going to buy some fruit and would need to cut it to eat it (that is a totally legitimate excuse and will be accepted by the police without much hassle about it). While I was breathalyzed, I wasn’t searched at all – no pat-down – nothing. These cops put me in the back seat of their squad car, uncuffed, without searching me. But they need three AR-15s at DUI roadblocks. That’s Taichung all-over.
I was told it would only take a half hour, or so, to give my statement. It wound up taking two hours. At least that part of police work is the same, in every nation. I had to confirm a diagram of what happened and explain what I explained to you a few paragraphs back. I was then returned to my scooter to retrieve it by the police – the same police who literally just took my word on my being who I was, based in giving them my name/birthday – I told them I’d be happy to go back to my place to get my IDs for them, but they said it was no problem. This country is seriously amazing. The same cops who told me I couldn’t be driving without a license brought me back to my scooter so I could drive home…without a license. Seriously. Best country ever.
To finalize, I would like to state that I really do love Taiwan, especially Taichung. When people talk about freedom, this is what I think about. In the USA, I never would have been breathalyzed. Then, again, I also wouldn’t have been treated so nicely by them, including cracking jokes about giving me a breathalyzer souvenir, not searched/cuffed, and chauffeured around. After I gave my statement, they said if I broke any laws, they’d let me know and mail me the citations. I’ll discover that sometime next week, I suppose. Meanwhile, my scooter has sustained no damage, the damage to the other scooter was minimal, as was bodily damage to the driver. We’ll see what it all comes back with, but at the end of the day, I came off looking pretty good. It’s almost-impossible to get foreigners here to abide by the laws, and cops know it – we’re damned-near impossible to track down and enforce rulings upon. I know of foreigners here who have overstayed visas for years, and the cops know it, know where they are working illegally, etc. – and they just don’t do anything.
There is no place in the world I feel as free as I do in Taiwan.
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