Note: this doesn't cover any standard rules of the road, but rather focuses on making the trip as safe as possible, especially in Koahsiung. I am hoping in the future to include some particularly nasty intersections/roads in the area, but for now, I'll stick with this.
Any accident is made a serious accident if you don’t wear a helmet. Always wear one, and make sure it is properly fastened. Don’t buy those little clam shell helmets you see all the hip guys and girls wearing in pink and black. As one foreigner here found out, they slide over in the event of an accident, letting your head scrape the ground. He was in the hospital for a good long time.
Slow down. It’s fun to drive fast, yes it is. But slow down anyway. You never know what is about to pop out in the scooter lane. Certainly, life in Kaohsiung leads people to drive their scooters home drunk at night. Please don’t do it. If you do, please slow down. That will at least give you a chance to avoid the worst of the possible accidents.
Don’t use your cell phone while driving. Pull over. You will, I know. But the guy next to you won’t. So watch out for people using cell phones, too.
RULES OF THE ROAD: KNOW THY ENEMIES
Most accidents are caused by people running the light late in one direction while others jump the light in the opposite direction. Yes, hordes of scooter drivers will shoot across the intersection as soon as the light in the opposing direction turns yellow. Don’t do it. Wait for the green. Even if you get honked at, which you will. Wait for the green. If you find yourself unavoidably in the middle of the intersection when the light turns, give a few beeps of your horn as a warning as you proceed through.
Kaohsiung drivers are notoriously law-ignoring. In a normal day’s scootering around the city, I witness maybe 100 illegal running of lights or going the wrong way or such things. There are actually one-way streets in this city where more people are driving against traffic than in the legal direction. You will see everything. Both cars and scooters run through lights like they aren’t there. Watch out.
BEWARE THE BLUE TRUCKS. These little monsters are often driven ridiculously fast or out of control, and no doubt a good percentage of drivers are hopped up on bing lan. The two accidents I saw that took out the driver in front of me (there but for the grace of God go I…) were both the result of idiotic driving by deadly BLUE TRUCKS.
Sometimes I feel like driving in south Taiwan is like negotiation. No one really has any right-of-way. But I think, really, driving in Kaohsiung is like skiing—the downhill person has the right-of-way. That is, the person in front of you has the right-of-way. It doesn’t matter if they pull out right in front of you without looking. Which people do, every single day. Let me say it again: You have no right-of-way in front of you. Drive accordingly. If a car is overtaking you, for instance, and comes back in too early, it is probably more your fault that you didn’t hit the brakes to let them in than it is their fault for hitting you.
Here's the negotiations: when facing an oncoming vehicle making a left turn across your path, you have two options. Option A—swerve a little to the right to make it clear that you are going in front of the car before they turn. This is a little more dangerous than option B. Option B—slow down and move slightly to your left, encouraging the driver to make a turn in front of you. Much safer, as you control the situation more. The same goes for a car going in the same direction then making a right turn through the scooter lane. You will either have to slip around on the right, making sure they understand what you are doing, or slow down and move left, giving them a chance to turn.
Especially on roads with heavy industrial traffic, watch out for oil on the road. My only spill was on a 45 degree turn where oil had been dripped out in the road. I hit the pavement, as did the scooter after me, and the scooter after him. Ouch. Also, asphalt laying skills here are in a sorry state. After any sizeable rain, huge potholes will appear. Crews will come by and smush some more asphalt in the hole, which will stay there until the next big rain, when it will all wash away, exposing that pothole again. I have seen the same one over and over again after every rain. Be careful after the rain. Some are quite deep. I saw a woman go ass over teakettle after hitting an eight inch deep crater in the middle of Jian Guo Road, one of the major thoroughfares.
I have heard bad stories about how the police treat foreigners in “Taiwan”—I assume that most of that information is geared toward Taipei. Generally, police are very considerate here in Kaohsiung. Due to their insufficient language skills, they will often just wave you on if you get pulled over, but I have had some nice conversations in Chinese with them, too. The quickest way to get pulled over currently is not having 2 mirrors on your scooter, which is their current enforcement target. You should have and use both mirrors.
I'm sure I am forgetting some important things, but remind me and I will update it.