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Ministry blasted for watering down assessment for senior taxi drivers

Opinions are divided over the government’s announcement that it will change the planned qualification test for taxi drivers over 65 to a medical assessment.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Thursday posted a public notice of a bid to require a medical test for taxi drivers over 65 years of age, rather than the qualification test that was planned for implementation starting next January.

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

Amid rising concerns by the rate of car accidents involving senior drivers, the ministry previously revised the law to introduce a qualification test for public transportation drivers older than 65. According to Korea Road Traffic Authority, 11.1 percent of traffic accidents that occurred from 2012 to 2016 were caused by drivers older than 65.

Since January 2016, bus drivers aged between 65 and 69 must take the test every three years, while it is mandatory for those over 70 to take it every year.

Considering the number of senior drivers in the taxi industry, the government also sought to implement the same test for them. But it faced strong backlash, mainly from private taxi drivers as they claimed the measure would violate their right to earn a living.

The Transport Ministry, which had made the pre-announcement of legislation in February last year, said it will replace the computer-based qualification test to a medical assessment.

According to 2017 data from the ministry, about 22 percent of taxi drivers were older than 65, a figure which is higher than other public transportation services as taxi driving is often the preferred job for retirees. The same data showed that 6.7 percent of bus drivers are over the age of 65, while those over 65 accounted for 7.9 percent of freight car drivers.

Citizens expressed safety concerns over the government’s decision.

“I do not understand why the government would just so readily take up the opinions of taxi drivers to come up with a new medical test,” Lee Eun-ji, 26, told The Korea Herald. “I am sorry to say this but, when I see very old taxi drivers, I do get worried. What if they faint?”

However, a ministry official explained that it is not clear if a medical assessment would be an easier test for senior taxi driver to pass.

“We have just announced the bid to prepare the medical test, so it does not mean it will be easier or more difficult to pass the test,” ministry official Lee Sung-hoon said. “From research and expert findings from other countries, we found that such medical assessments also can play a role. And having this kind of measure can affect the accident rate.”

The examination originally planned is conducted for 90 minutes in seven categories, including tests for the driver’s reflex, visual acuity and memory. When a driver fails the test, it can be retaken within two weeks, but the driver is now allowed to drive during the period.

Private taxi drivers continue to be skeptical about the planned assessment, claiming that it appears to “ignore” the rights of drivers.

“It is not like the accident rate of elder taxi drivers is visibly high, and they have already passed strict qualification measures to become the operators of their taxi,” Kim Do-gil, an official from the Union of Private Taxi Operators said.

To become a taxi driver in South Korea, one must be older than 20 with a driver’s license and a driving experience of at least a year. Taxi driver candidates should also pass the national driving aptitude test and a test by the hiring taxi operator.

As for private taxi drivers, one needs at least a three year accident-free driving record for transportation services, such as taxis and freight cars.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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