The legal driving age for automobiles is 18 and 16 for motorcycles. Seatbelt use is mandatory and violators will receive a fine. Normal roadway speed is 60 kph and 80-110 kph on the highways.
Busy city roads often have a “Bus Only Lane” for the convenience of those who use a public transportation. Passenger vehicles holding less than six persons are are prohibited from using this lane. The “Bus Only Lane” is indicated by a blue line and is usually the far right hand lane. Cars drive on the right side of the road in South Korea, the same as in North America. However, unless you are from a very large city, you will find the style of driving here very different than what you are used to. The emphasis in South Korea is on offensive driving, as opposed to defensive driving. Driver courtesy is almost non-existent here…if your lane ends and you put on your turn signal to in the hope that someone will slow down and let you in to their lane, you could be waiting a very long time. Drivers must force their way in to the next lane by inching their car slowly into the next lane until the car coming from behind must stop or collide with them. Everyone here is GO! GO! GO!
Drivers will actually get angry at another driver for letting someone into their lane. No one is shy about using their horn either. As soon as that traffic light turns green they toot just to make sure you are not snoozing, they honk at other drivers to tell them not to pull into their lane and they bleat at drivers who won’t let them in. And there is no such thing as a yellow light. Drivers will speed up to try to beat the red light and it is very common for an intersection to get locked up by cars that couldn’t wait sixty seconds for the next green.
Foreigners may drive a motor vehicle in South Korea if they have a valid international driver’s license. If they don’t have an international driver’s license they can apply for a Korean driver’s license, though they will have to take both a written and road test. The written test must be completed in Korean, so if you can’t read or write Korean you are out of luck. However, if you have an alien registration card (all teacher’s with a valid E-2 teaching visa must get one within 3 months) and if you hold a valid driver’s license from your home country, Korean Driver Licensing will issue you a Korean driver’s license (valid for nine years) for the low cost of 20,000 won.
Used motorcycles are abundant and quite cheap in Korea (600,000 – 800,000 won for a 125cc) and are often the choice mode of transportation for many teachers. Contrary to several years ago where 125CC bikes and under did not require a driving license, all motorized vehicles, including 50CC scooters, require at least a motorcycle license to operate. Being caught driving without an appropriate license will mean that you will be prohibited from obtaining a motorcycle license for at least 6 months or a regular driving license for 2 years. You will also have to pay a fine. For more information, visit the Driver’s License Agency English website.
Insurance is mandatory for all cars but not for motorcycles. In Korea, if an accident occurs, the party at fault is responsible for damages, including medical costs if anyone is injured. If the party at fault has insurance, they will only have to pay a portion of the repair and medical costs. However, if the party at fault does not have insurance, they could stand to lose a considerable amount of money. With insurance, repair and injury costs are set by the insurance companies, and accident victims can only claim a pre-determined amount, both for vehicle repairs and for injuries. However, if the party at fault has no insurance, victims can seeks the costliest repair facilities and hospitals, with nearly no limit on what damages they can seek. Insurance is fairly cheap and only gets cheaper each year that you go without an accident and can be easily purchased from one of many insuruance companies or even at a local post office, so it is extremely prudent for anyone driving any kind of vehicle in Korea to purchase a policy.
As a last note, if you have no driver’s license and are involved in an accident, you are automatically at fault, regardless of who was actually in the wrong, and any insurance policy that you may hold may be void for driving without the required license. Furthermore, if the party at fault cannot come to a monetary settlement with the victim(s), they will face criminal charges which can result in huge fines in addition to jail time.
Drinking and Driving
Drinking and driving is never a good idea in any country and Korea is no exception. Korean police are extremely adept at placing breath-test roadblocks at locations that are impossible to avoid once you can see them. Refusal to take the breath-test will result in cancellation of your license. You are legally drunk in Korea when you have a blood-alcohol level of 0.05% or higher. Driving while intoxicated can result in anywhere from your license being suspended for 100 days to being cancelled altogether, and well as you being issued a hefty fine.