The horrific accident at the weekend that left Taichung Mayor Jason Hu Chi-chiang's wife, Shaw Hsiao-ling, in a critical condition illustrated perfectly just how dangerous Taiwan's roads are. According to local media accounts, the young factory worker who caused the accident was attempting to pass a slower vehicle on the freeway hard shoulder when he lost control of his car. This highly risky manoeuvre is all too common on Taiwan's freeways, as are high-speed tailgating and sudden shifts across several lanes. On city streets, drivers routinely run red lights. In rural areas, overloaded refuse trucks career through tiny villages. And everywhere one drives, the law of the jungle prevails. Trucks are bigger than cars, which are bigger than scooters. Failure to heed this reality has disastrous consequences. As in other Confucian societies, the nanny state clucks disapprovingly by tacking up hopeful signs urging the putative gentlemen behind the wheel to yield - or 'ritually defer', as the Chinese term lirang may be literally translated. The snarling reality behind this polite facade, though, is a heavy toll of injuries and deaths. That is due to a systemic failure to enforce traffic laws and an incredibly cavalier attitude towards safety. Motorists drive recklessly because the police rarely, if ever, pull people over for traffic offences. Instead, they rely on checkpoints put up during periodic campaigns against drink-driving or speeding, and technological solutions such as unmanned radar traps and cameras. Neither works particularly well. The highly publicised campaigns end in a few weeks, after which the targeted offence may once more be committed with impunity. And almost every driver I know has installed illegal radar- and camera-detection devices in their vehicles. As the Chinese saying goes: 'Those above have their laws while those below have their ways of getting around them.' Taiwanese, in fact, are generally able to ignore traffic laws they don't like. But, as Saturday night's tragedy illustrated, the lack of safety precautions is potentially deadly. Ms Shaw, a back-seat passenger in the van carrying Mr Hu and staff members, was not wearing a seat belt. Back-seat passengers in Taiwan are not required by law to do so, and they rarely do. Safety experts were unanimous that her serious injuries could have been substantially lessened had she been wearing a seat belt. Deeply shocked by Ms Shaw's terrible injuries, Taiwan's parliament, paralysed for months by partisan battles to depose President Chen Shui-bian, quickly launched a bill to compel back-seat passengers to use seat belts. The measure seems virtually certain to become law. But it is difficult to be optimistic about continued progress towards making Taiwan a safer place to drive when it takes a celebrity injury or death to drive home what should be simple common sense.