CHIANG RAI, 4 January 2017: Thailand’s media created the annual horror story dubbed “ the seven deadly days” that number crunches the death toll over the New Year holiday.
But the reality is quite different from what the 423 New Year deaths on Thai roads might suggest.
The media hype over the magical seven days falls flat when you divide 423 deaths by seven and get the daily average death toll of 60.4.
It turns out to be actually lower than the year-round average of 66 deaths daily, based on an annual count by the World Health Organisation. Using data submitted by the Thai government, WHO estimated that around 24,000 people die in road accidents annually and that gives you a gruesome daily toll that exceeds the New Year’s carnage, day in and day out, year after year.
Of course, it doesn’t diminish the horror and carnage of New Year road travel in Thailand, but thanks to media hype we are being conned into thinking that road travel during the rest of the year might be safer.
Unfortunately, the road carnage and lack of highway code compliance are news worthy for just the seven days of New Year and Songkran (water festival in April), while during the rest of the year the subject conveniently topples into the trash.
Visitors should recognise there are 365 deadly days to contend with when you consider driving in Thailand. The main causes of death are the same whatever the season or snapshot window – drunk driving and excessive speed, while 83% of the victims are vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists). The economic loss to the nation is an astounding THB1,971,476,467 (WHO estimate), debited annually.
In addition to 423 fatalities during the seven-day New Year carnage, authorities reported 3,841 accidents and 4,005 injuries, a count that resembles war zone casualties. There is no respite. The relentless torrent of casualties continues beyond isolated holiday festivals at an alarming rate of 66 deaths daily creating a tyranny of year-round slaughter.
On the road safety scale the bigger picture is grim. Apart from the tragic loss of life, it will inevitably damage the nation’s reputation as a safe destination for tourists. 2017 closed with an estimated 35.32 million visits, that translates into a considerable group of people exploring the country by road transport every day of the year.
Are they safer travelling the roads of Thailand than in neighbouring countries? The number crunching suggests not.
WHO data on road deaths per 100,000 people would suggest Singapore is safer at a rate of 3.6, Philippines 10.5, Laos 14.3, Indonesia 15.3, Cambodia 17.4, Myanmar 20.3, Vietnam 24.5.
Thailand languishes at a disgraceful 36.2, a deadly statistic that doesn’t go away after the seven-day festive season.