North Korea’s institutes new traffic law reforms

North Korea Traffic Code Handbook
North Korea Traffic Code Handbook. Image: Daily NK

North Korea has instituted new punishments for motorists who violate the country’s traffic code and introduced an “alternate plate” system to cut down on traffic congestion.

North Korean sources who provided Daily NK with information about the new additions to the Road Traffic Law reported that the number of taxis and other vehicles have increased a great deal and this has led to traffic congestion and an increasing number of traffic accidents.

“The Ministry of People’s Security reformed the Road Traffic Law two years ago to deal with the changes in the situation,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

According to the source, the updated Road Traffic Law was implemented in June 2017 based on Cabinet Decision No. 35. The revised law has eight chapters and 168 sections and covers everything related to transportation in North Korea, including roads, pedestrians, transportation-related facilities, acquiring driver’s licenses, traffic accidents, policies to prevent traffic congestion and other relevant rules and regulations.

Section 158 of the revised law states that “any individual who infringes on traffic laws and severely injures or kills another person, harms more than three people, or brings about serious harm to property” faces the loss of their driver’s license.

The law also states that drivers who commit a “hit-and-run” can lose their driver’s license. South Korea’s traffic law also stipulates that a driver who commits a hit-and-run incident can lose their license.

South Korea’s traffic law punishes drivers who have violated traffic laws or have caused an accident with demerit points depending on the severity of the violation or accident in question (drivers who accumulate 121 points over the course of a year lose their licenses). Drivers who commit infractions like driving under the influence of 0.1% of alcohol or more, or who borrow someone else’s license, may also lose their driver’s licenses.

North Korea’s traffic law, on the other hand, stipulates that drivers who commit the following infractions can lose their driver’s licenses: 1) violation of regulations concerning cargo on dump trucks and any resulting damage to facilities; 2) causing a traffic incident after violating traffic instructions and signals; 3) traffic incidents that are caused by technical failures on vehicles like steering and ignition; 4) operating a vehicle on restricted roads or during prohibited periods of time; and 5) driving under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs.

Behavior that can cause a driver to have their license suspended – one step away from getting their license taken away – is stipulated in Section 156 of the law and includes five or more violations of traffic signals. North Korea’s driver’s licenses include five spaces to write in traffic violations and if these five spaces are full the driver will have his or her license suspended.

A separate source in Pyongyang reported that the revised traffic law was accompanied by the implementation of an “alternate plate” system in Pyongyang that restricts the operation of passenger cars and small buses on certain days. Small cargo trucks and mid-sized buses are only allowed to drive on Pyongyang’s main roads from 9 AM to 9 PM.

The driver of a passenger car whose license plate ends in an uneven number must receive permission from traffic authorities to drive on permitted days. The authorities have thus introduced a very stringent traffic control system due to the increase in vehicles and the resulting congestion in traffic.

Section 21 of the revised traffic law stipulates that cars can only be operated on designated days, times and even roads. Drivers that need to use their vehicles on restricted days must first receive permission from their local MPS offices.

In Pyongyang and provincial capital cities, passenger cars, buses and motorcycles are only permitted to operate from 6:30 PM to 8:30 AM the next day on Sundays and weekdays.

“The new traffic law has led some factories and enterprises to fabricate license plates so they can operate their vehicles whenever they want,” the source continued.

“The laws were implemented to prevent the roads from getting clogged up, but there are a lot of companies and individual drivers who don’t understand why.”

Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to