The death of 9-year-old Kim Min-sik in a school zone car accident triggered the revision of the Road Traffic Act on March 25, 2020. The proposed bill, dubbed the Min-sik Law, is composed of two revisions – one mandating the installation of unmanned traffic law enforcement equipment, speed bumps, safety signs, and traffic lights at crosswalks closest to main facility entrances which are designated as child protection zones; another stipulating prison sentences from three years to life imprisonment for drivers responsible for the school zone death of a child younger than 13, and a year to 15 years sentencing or a fine of at least 5 million won for those responsible for a child’s injury in safe zones. The latter branch of the revision, however, drew strong reactions from the public. Critics claim that the bill violates the principle of proportionality by imposing automatic and excessive punishment upon the driver while lacking consideration of specific circumstances of an accident and who is at fault in each case. Pointing at roughly similar penalties levied on offenders of the Min-sik Law and the Yoon Chang-ho Act – the bill that toughened penalty on drunk driving – they argue that the offense in a child zone accident must be treated differently from drunk driving or murder, where the crime is seen as more deliberate. It is also unreasonable to expect adults to perfectly navigate through and react to children’s unexpected behavior on the road at all times. Advocates of the bill, on the other hand, maintain that stringent punishment will drastically reduce the frequency of accidents in child protection zones and that it must be adult drivers, not the children, that must take on heavier responsibility in preventing a potential crash. Furthermore, if the driver had abided by the imposed speed limit and met the criteria of ‘safety-conscious driving’, the case would be excused from the application of the Min-sik Law. Critics again attack the arbitrariness and uncertainty involved in delineating the criteria for ‘safety-conscious driving’ and in deciding whether the accident was a violation of the Min-sik Law or not. Despite the ongoing debate, the importance of establishing a set of consistent policies for the improvement of child safety in protection zones must be recognized. There is a need to establish precise standards for clearer application of the Min-sik Law to school zone accidents, both to reduce public confusion and backlash and to enhance the effect of punishment on violators. Further efforts should be made to mature the driving culture in South Korea in the wake of this controversy.
Park Su-hyun email@example.com