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Driving in South Korea


Driving in South KoreaDriving in South Korea is "interesting" to say the least. It can be an adventure and very dangerous if you are not careful. It is no joke when someone says it is optional to stop at red lights and stop signs. Traffic jams, illegal U-turns and double parking are very normal in South Korea.

Driving on Osan Air Base.
If you live on Osan Air Base driving is very simple. The base is not that large and walking or driving a bicycle is very common. Chances are you will live close to your work center. You may have to obtain two licenses; one for your POV and another for GOV. Your work center will let you know if you will need the GOV license. 

Double parking in KoreaDriving in Songtan city.
There is one main 2-lane road that is perpendicular to the Osan Air Base main gate. Even if you live 30 seconds from the main gate driving it can take a long time to the base during peak hours (0730-0830 and 1600-1730). The front gate is a very popular U-turn area used by taxis and trucks. Additionally, the main gate closes for incoming traffic at 1900.


Below is important information on driving in Korea from USFK Pamphlet 385-2.

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!

USFK PAO Pamphlet #5, Tips if you breakdown in Korea

When a vehicle becomes disabled on the expressway, move the vehicle to the right side of the roadway and place a triangular warning sign 100 meters or more behind the vehicle during the day.

At night, red flares or flashing lights may be used at least 200 meters behind the disabled vehicle to provide visibility within 500 meters from both directions.

Such warning devices must be carried at all times for use in an emergency. Otherwise Korean police will issue you a ticket for neglecting your responsibility of maintaining safety during a vehicle breakdown.

Eventually, either Korean police patrol cars or Korean Highway Corporation patrol trucks or cars will pass by. They will stop to assist if you wave at them or otherwise indicate that you need help. They have red emergency flashers on top of their vehicles.

Korean police officers recommend that you do not try to wave down other passing cars for help because it could be dangerous. Korean patrol officers usually speak some English, so try to speak slowly and clearly when addressing them. They can either take you to the nearest rest stop or tollgate to use the telephone, or they can contact their headquarters by radio to convey a message to the nearest American miitary police station.

The cost for Korean wrecker service depends upon the distance from the highway to the Korean service station. Usually, it costs around 50,000 won within the city and up to 100,000 won from the expressway.


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10 Rules for Driving in South Korea
  1. You must be an E-7 or higher to own a POV and get a USFK driver's license in Korea
  2. Dependants must be 18-years old to drive a POV
  3. It is better to take the train or bus to Seoul or other distant cities, especially on a Korean holiday
  4. Speed limit on the expressway is 60 MPH for 2 or more lanes and 50 MPH for single lanes
  5. Speed limit on a city road is 36 MPH
  6. If you break down, you must place a triangle at least 100 meters behind your vehicle
  7. The left lane on the express ways are for buses
  8. Children go to school at all hours of the day and even walk home at night
  9. You can not part within 30 feet of a traffic sign or light; within 20 feet of a fire hydrant, crosswalk, bus stop, or intersection.
  10. Speed limit near the Osan High School is 20 MPH  
10 Funny Rules for Driving in Korea
  1. A parking lot is never full regardless of the number of cars in it
  2. Motor scooters can act as pedestrians and use sidewalks or go against traffic
  3. You will never be the last one to run the red light
  4. Yielding the right of way is seen a sign of stupidity and will earn you the wrath of Koreans
  5. Your car must always have at least 20 stuffed animals in the rear window to block your view
  6. Each car must have at least one cell phone which automatically attaches to the driver's face when driving
  7. There is no such thing as a one-way street in Korea
  8. Korean air has the amazing property of being able to magically absorb all emissions. Therefore, it is perfectly logical to sleep in your car with your AC on while your car is running
  9. The bicycle is a strange and futuristic invention from outer space that only Europeans, Americans and other foreigners drive
  10. There is no speed limit in Korea after midnight
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