BANGKOK, 23 December 2015: A road accident in North Thailand that claimed the lives of 13 Malaysian tourists, last Sunday, serves to illustrate the dangers of overland travel.
The tragedy prompted officials to say they will intensify efforts to crackdown on drunk and reckless drivers during the festive season.
Tourism is a major source of revenue for Thailand popularly tagged a world-class destination, but the safety of overland travel is far from world-class according to World Health Organisation’s data on road deaths. It is, in fact, the second worst country for road deaths in the world.
Although, foreign tourist arrivals continue to increase, there is a threat to the quality of the overland journey in Thailand due to an absence of road safety compliance, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and a serious deficiency in mindfulness for other road users.
There are calls annually to crackdown on reckless driving especially during the festive season, but they fail to reverse a rising trend in road accidents. Most road accidents are a result of driving under the influence of alcohol.
The Zero-Death New Year Project is being organised, this year, by the General Prem Tinsulanonda Foundation, Don’t Drive Drunk Foundation, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Transport, Royal Thai Police and other agencies to reduce fatalities from road accidents during the New Year festival.
Ministry of Interior undersecretary, Grisada Boonrach, said the Administration Centre for Road Safety has set measures for provincial authorities to adopt, including strict enforcement of the law to reduce road accidents.
According to the Bureau of Highway Safety, more than 90% of road accidents are caused by human error.
The bureau’s deputy director, Sujin Mungnimit, said negligence and driving under the influence of alcohol accounts for 95.7% of all road accidents.
“The importance of road safety needs to be instilled among members of the public at a young age, in order to eliminate the issues effectively,” he said.
Thailand’s Network of Road Safety and transport academics have called on the Ministry of Transport to phase out the use of unstable double-deck buses. The vehicles cannot cope with the twists and turns of mountainous roads and structurally fail under severe braking conditions.
Also according to the network, drivers of double-deck buses have no experience especially on routes through hills in North Thailand. Very few have the driving skills required for heavy commercial vehicles, but tour companies turn a blind eye to deficiencies in driving skills to save costs at the expense of customer safety.
Foundation of Consumer research showed that during, October 2011 to August 2014, tour buses were involved in 15% of accidents in the public transport segment, the third worse form of transport of all categories assessed. The most lethal transport according to statistics was the commuter-van, mostly built by Toyota. They accounted for 33% of all accidents followed by air-conditioned buses (26%), tour buses (15%), bus services between provinces (10%), staff shuttle bus and city buses (7%) and taxis (2%).
In a 2015 a study on global road safety, the World Health Organisation designated Thailand the world’s second most dangerous for road deaths with 36.2 fatalities per 100,000 people.
WHO said the latest official data, issued in 2012, showed road deaths in Thailand reached 14,059. But they added that their modeling suggested the true figure was actually closer to 24,000 dead a year.