USFK Pamphlet 385-2, Guide to Safe Driving in Korea
Those desiring to drive a motor vehicle and those who are required to drive vehicles as a function of their military duties must successfully pass a written driver's licensing examination administered at their supporting installation Drivers Testing Office. Civilian passenger vehicles must pass an inspection, they must be insured, and they must be registered / tagged at the supporting installation's Provost Marshal's Office (PMO). Only one Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) is authorized per family for command sponsored personnel. For unaccompanied military personnel, only those military personnel in the pay grade of E-7 and above are authorized to own and operate a POV. USFK Pam 385-2, Guide to Safe Driving in Korea, serves as the study guide to prepare for the written driver's examination for military personnel and their family members. Family members must be at least 18 years of age to drive POVs in Korea.
There must be a logical explanation why driving in Korea is more difficult than in the United States. At first glance, you can clearly see that there are many vehicles and too few roads to handle the traffic in an orderly manner. This situation may be the reason taxis and other vehicles drive aggressively, weaving in and out of traffic. Buses and heavy trucks are required to use the extreme right lanes but very often wander into other lanes.
In addition, experience is a factor in driving in Korea. Americans have been driving for many years. As a result, we developed and learned safe habits when around motor vehicles. In Korea, the motor vehicle growth was sudden, thus not allowing for the development of safe habits as in the United States.
On every road in Korea, you can expect to find people. On expressways, extra caution is required around road repair and maintenance sites. Maintenance workers are prone to step into the path of traffic and drivers must be prepared to stop immediately. Also watch for workers when going through tunnels and toll gates.
There are many pedestrians in Korea. Traditionally, they have felt that they have as much right to the use of the roads, and therefore expect vehicles to yield to them. This behavior creates a real hazard for you as the driver. It is wise to reduce speed when driving around pedestrians, especially children. Many Korean children have a preconceived notion that by raising their arms, a vehicle will stop to allow them to cross the street. Watch out for them and prepare to stop. Pedestrians also become confused while crossing roads, often stopping suddenly and then moving into the paths of moving vehicles. A common occurrence is for pedestrians to run or walk into traffic lanes from the front or rear of halted or parked vehicles and other blind spots.
Although much of Korea is using the motor vehicle as a means of transportation, there are still some people who rely on other more economical means of transportation. It is not uncommon to find yourself sharing a road with animal or human drawn carts. Even more unpredictable and hazardous are bicycles and motorcycles. They are usually overloaded and unstable. Slow down and give them lots of room, as the operators are noted for weaving into the paths of passing vehicles. Even more disturbing are the motorcyclists who drive on the extreme right side of the road at an excessive rate of speed and pass your vehicle on the right (one should constantly keep an eye on rear view mirrors to reduce the element of surprise).
Other hazards on Korea roadways are created by nature. Two of the more notable ones are potholes, created by the winter freezing and thawing process, and flooding, caused by the rainy season. Slow down. Avoid potholes if you can. Potholes damage tires, oil pans, or even entire cars.
Truly, driving in Korea is a challenge. Relax, be calm, be alert, and drive defensively!