December 29, 2010 in Nation/World

Deliveryman’s death jolts S. Koreans

John M. Glionna Los Angeles Times
 

SEOUL, South Korea – They’re on the streets at all hours, the motorcycle deliverymen slicing through traffic on their race against the clock, defying both the law and common sense to get their cargo delivered on time.

Run a few red lights? Pull a last-second dash across six lanes of traffic? No problem. And if the zigzag through gridlock fails, there’s always the sidewalk – pedestrians know to stay out of the way.

“It’s not that I want to deliberately disobey traffic laws, but when you have customers breathing down your neck, it’s really hard not to,” deliveryman Bang Chang-min said. “When I’m on a bike, I’m under so much pressure that I feel I transform into somebody else.”

But the recent death of a pizza deliveryman may cause South Koreans to rethink their obsession with zippy fast-food conveyance. On Tuesday, government officials announced a new educational campaign to encourage consumers to think safety over speed.

In the last five years, 4,098 vehicular accidents nationwide involved motorcycle deliverymen, a subculture dominated by teenagers looking for part-time work, according to government statistics.

Activists blame a deadly mix of youthful recklessness and a corporate system that demands drivers take chances. And such accidents are on the rise: Last year saw 1,395 accidents involving deliverymen.

In South Korea, all kinds of food is advertised with quick home delivery, from burgers and fried chicken to items bought at mom-and-pop groceries. The result is often road chaos. Deliverymen sprint about the city with boxes strapped to the backs of their motorcycles. Some drive one-handed in order to carry more orders.

Delivery jobs are stressful and turnover is high. With some pizza companies, drivers must absorb the loss if they arrive late and food is given away free. Others pay drivers an incentive for on-time arrivals.

Activists insist that speed kills.

“The clock starts as soon as the order is taken, putting immense pressure on these young men,” said Kim Young-kyung, president of the Youth Community Union. “Companies train new employees to use every available method regardless of the law. The bottom line is to get there on time.”

Last week, a 24-year-old Pizza Hut deliveryman was killed when he was broadsided by a taxi driver who had run a red light. On the same day, an 18-year-old driver for another firm was injured in a collision with a bus, officials say.

Protestors recently rallied outside the Employment and Labor Ministry, holding up placards, one of which read, “The 30-minute delivery system kills people.”

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