|A car is stuck in the ditch next to a road on Jeju Island in this 2017 photo. The police found the driver made a mistake due to inexperience. / Courtesy of Jeju Provincial Police Agency|
By Jung Hae-myoung
Residents of Jeju Island are threatened by inexperienced drivers who go to the resort island to practice their driving skills.
There are a surging number of blog posts encouraging the beginners practice driving on Jeju where the traffic is relatively light compared to mainland cities. The reviews include tips and safety warnings for novice drivers.
"I even traveled at 108 kilometers per hour on the expressway. The place is good for beginners because there are not many cars around here," a blogger wrote in August.
"Jeju Island is less complicated compared to traffic situations in Seoul," a college student surnamed Han, 26, told The Korea Times.
"It is more cost effective to drive rather than take public transport." The car rental cost on Jeju is around 20,000 won ($17.5) per day, and even lower during the off-season.
However, the high number of inexperienced drivers has led to an increase in traffic accidents.
In a 2016 report by Jeju Research Institute, 35.4 percent of people who rented cars on the island had less than five years of driving experience. Rental car accidents are continuously on the rise from 525 cases in 2015 to 2,011 cases in 2017, according to the Jeju Provincial Police Agency.
"Many local drivers feel anxious whenever they see license plates of rented cars," Kim Woo-hyun, a Jeju resident, told The Korea Times. Rented cars can be distinguished by their license plates that start with "ha," "ho," or "heo" in Korean letters.
"It is hard to get around tourist places especially during the summer holiday season," she said.
July and August had the most accidents with 568 and 628 cases respectively, according to the 2016 report.
"There have been many accidents by drivers of rental cars: In one case, the driver turned left regardless of the traffic light. In another, a car blocked a bike path. In yet another, a vehicle fell into a stream after making a hasty turn on a mountain road. Many accidents were caused by novice drivers who just received their drivers' licenses," an official at the regional police agency said. "They are mostly dependent on navigation systems and make poor decisions."
These drivers also often show their inexperience, parking at the wrong places and leaving for sightseeing without leaving any contact number, the official said.
Car rental companies also try to make profits out of increasing tourists, and make loose checks on their drivers' licenses.
According to the report, only two out of 30 rental companies in Seoul and Jeju made thorough checks of the qualifications of their customers, such as whether their licenses had been suspended.
Some car rental businesses say they will not demand compensation for accidents, trying to lure more customers with less driving experience who seek cheap prices. The customers are free from damage costs and the business owners go to unlicensed repair shops to increase profits.
The increasing number of traffic accidents caused by rental cars has been a headache to the local government as well.
As part of the solution, the provincial government said it would decrease the total number of rental cars from 33,388 to 25,000 by June 2019. The provincial council passed a special act in February to restrict the number of rental cars and adopt stricter standards for new registration.
Now some business owners are protesting the new rule, saying they will sue the government for interfering with their business.
Experts say decreasing the number of rental cars is not a fundamental solution to curb the number of accidents.
"Most of the accidents on Jeju Island are caused by exceeding the speed limit and the drivers' lack of experience," said Chang Gyeong-wook, a senior researcher at the Korea Road Traffic Authority.
"The local government should enforce stricter punishment for speed limit violations and more actively promote safe driving."