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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Herald on July 25)
Safety consciousness
Regulation alone cannot prevent accidents

The government last week announced a set of measures aimed at reducing casualties from traffic accidents, including obliging all passengers to wear seat belts on any type of road starting in 2015. It was a proper but overdue move.

   In terms of traffic safety, Korea has long remained near the bottom among major industrialized nations. According to figures from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the number of traffic accident fatalities in Korea stood at 2.4 per 10,000 vehicles and 10.7 per 100,000 people in 2011, compared to the OECD averages of 1.2 and 6.2, respectively. In the two categories, the country ranked 30th and 29th among the 32 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

   Separate data recently released by the National Police Agency showed 5,392 Koreans were killed in traffic accidents last year, up 3.1 percent from 5,229 in 2011. The increase reversed the downward trend that had continued for a decade.

   Against this backdrop, it has been too easy a stance to stick to the current rule that obligates only drivers and front-seat passengers to fasten seat belts with backseat passengers required to do so only on expressways. All the measures announced last week, which also includes compelling all new cars to be equipped with daylight running lamps, should be implemented thoroughly to achieve the goal of reducing traffic accident fatalities from 2.34 per 10,000 vehicles last year to 1.6 in 2017. It is hoped that the figure will be drawn down further below the target.

   What may be more important than regulatory efforts by the government is that all drivers and passengers thoroughly make a habit of fastening seat belts and abiding by other traffic rules. Local experts on road safety estimate that only 73 percent of all drivers wear seat belts and a mere 10 percent of backseat passengers do so in Korea, compared to about 90 percent and 75 percent, respectively, in other major advanced countries.

   The high rate of traffic accident deaths in Korea should be understood as just partly reflecting the lack of safety consciousness among its people, which was proven again last week in two tragic cases. Five high school students drowned to death Thursday when they were swept away by a strong current after they entered the sea as ordered by unqualified instructors during a summer camp on a west coast beach. The accident came days after seven workers were killed when water from the swollen Hangang River swamped an underground waterworks construction site in Seoul. The deaths were blamed on the lack of safety warnings from their supervisors, who had paid no heed to possible dangers from the heavy downpour.

   President Park Geun-hye came forward Monday to order officials to ensure that similar accidents would not happen again and warn that anyone to be found negligent on supervisory work would face stern punishment. Immediately after her instruction, state auditors launched emergency safety checks on major construction sites in Seoul, and Education Ministry officials vowed to discipline teachers who fail to accompany their students to outdoor classes.

   These moves are all too familiar to the public, who have seen previous pledges do little to prevent the repetition of accidents. This time, all relevant officials should prove that it will no longer be the case.

   On their part, citizens must enhance their own safety consciousness and adhere to obligations required of them. It was embarrassing that some passenger cars stood in the way of rescue vehicles rushing to the flooded construction site in Seoul.