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Food delivery is a fast and dangerous business

Feb 08,2019
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Mr. Lee started his career as a delivery driver over 20 years ago, hustling jajangmyeon (black bean noodles) and jjambbong (spicy seafood noodles) for a Chinese restaurant when he was a college student.

Many of his fellow students were amazed by how fast his delivery service was. Some of his customers would even order their food using a public telephone at the main student hall then would walk back to their nearby club room only to see that he was already there waiting for them with their food. Speed was what set him apart from the rest and helped him survive.

Twenty years after Mr. Lee started delivering Chinese food, a 19-year-old delivery driver speeds in between cars on his motorbike. At the back of his bike is a sticker marking that he works for Baedaltong, a delivery company. As he picks up chicken, the franchise store owner reminds the young man to be careful but also quick. In order to deliver the food in a speedy manner, the young courier crosses a double yellow line twice, makes three illegal U-turns and speeds on sidewalks and crosswalks. The young delivery driver is paid per delivery. Speed is everything for him.

Nowadays, more restaurant owners use delivery apps like Baedal Minjok, Yogiyo and Baedaltong to sell their goods, and the market for deliveries has steadily increased. In 2018, sales for delivery services reached 5 trillion won ($4.4 billion). This is four times the amount of sales 10 years ago. Time is money for couriers who receive an average of 3,500 won per delivery. This is why they resort to violating traffic laws to quickly finish off as many deliveries as they can.

“My children and I were walking on the sidewalk once when we were almost hit by a passing delivery guy speeding on his motorbike,” said Kim Yong-chul, a resident of Seongnam, Gyeonggi.

“It’s always scary when a speeding motorbike cuts in front of me when I’m driving,” said Baek Gyeong-ae, who lives in Goyang, Gyeonggi. “I’m always worried that an accident will occur.”

According to data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the number of car accidents has decreased consistently for the last five years. However, during the same time period, the number of accidents caused by speeding motorbikes increased 32 percent.

In April 2018, a teenager was killed in Jeju Island after being hit by a delivery service driver on his way to deliver a pork dish. In September, a senior citizen was hit and killed by a teenager delivering fried chicken. Both drivers did not have driver’s licenses, but the employer for the Jeju delivery service responsible for both accidents only received a fine of 300,000 won for employing a minor who did not have the required qualifications.

According to a study conducted by the Korea Center for Disease Control & Prevention, from 2011 to 2016, a total of about 260,000 injuries due to car accidents were reported by 23 hospital emergency room workers. Fifteen percent of the drivers in these cars were between 15 and 19 years old.

Most delivery service employees do not have insurance to cover injuries to themselves and others from accidents.

This is despite the fact that applying for liability insurance is mandatory for all delivery staff. Applying for comprehensive car insurance, which could excuse the driver of a criminal felony charges if an accident were to occur, is not. According to the Transportation Ministry, only 5.7 percent (123,000) of all delivery service employees are registered for insurance policies that cover injuries.

Because of these striking figures, major delivery service companies are working to educate drivers about traffic regulations. Baedal Minjok’s “Mint Rider” traffic education program is mandatory for all delivery service employees. The company also focuses on making sure that all delivery service employees are covered by occupational health and safety insurance while negotiating with insurance companies to provide another insurance policy that is designed for them specifically.

Yogiyo has also implemented an educational program for its employees to make sure that they obey traffic regulations. Delivery service employees that are directly employed by small business owners do not receive insurance or educational programs.

“It’s financially hard for us to pay 4 million won ($3,500),” said the owner of a chicken restaurant. “It’s hard for delivery service employees to cover insurance if they aren’t employed by major companies.”

In light of this situation, a revision to the Enforcement Decree of the Industrial Safety and Healthy Act was approved by the National Assembly on Dec. 27. The revision puts the responsibility to prevent accidents and damage caused by delivery drivers on the employers.

“The revision stipulates that the law makes sure that these employees are, in some sense, protected by the law,” said Park Dong-uk, a professor who teaches at Korea National Open University. However, he added that, “the law was revised without any proper preparation. This is why, with the increasing number of accidents occurring, a need to implement new laws and rules to prevent these accidents is now of great interest.”

BY KIM HONG-JUN [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]