Preparing for the Songkran nightmare

BANGKOK, 21 March 2017: Thailand’s Cabinet announced, last Tuesday, a waiver of  inter-city tollways for motorists during the upcoming Songkran festival next month.

According to the Cabinet’s document, motorway travel will be free during the Songkran festival, from 0001, 11 April to 2400, 18 April, to encourage Thais to travel by car to visit friends and relatives in the provinces.

It didn’t say why it was encouraging Thais to travel by car. The holiday is notorious for the annual killing spree on roads that usually ends with around  500 fatalities and in excess of 3,000 serious injuries, blamed on speeding and drunk driving.

The cost is enormous for insurance companies, the government’s health services and hospitals nationwide. In addition the cost to families that have to look after relatives injured in car accidents is a massive drain on their resources.

The death toll and risks involved in driving during the festival week encourage many Thais to book low-cost airlines rather than drive to their hometowns in north and northeast Thailand. Flights are jammed packed with airlines putting on extra services to meet demand. Airline travel is the only safe way to get around the country.

But every year, in a bid to spread tourism cash to the provinces, the government encourages overland travel.

The tollway concession applies to motorways 9 and 7 that skirt Bangkok and connect with highways to the North near Bang Pa-In and to the East in Chonburi linking resorts such as Pattaya and Rayong with Bangkok.

In addition, the Expressway Authority of Thailand will waive fees on its Bang Na-Chon Buri expressway during the Songkran festival in mid-April according to Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith.

A member of the National Reform Steering Assembly has urged the government to come up with a more effective anti-road accident programme for the upcoming Songkran holiday, according to the National News Bureau of Thailand report.

NRSA member Nikorn Chamnong, who is also the chairman of the Thailand Safety Club, submitted, last Monday, a petition which was intended for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, calling for the formulation of policies and measures to ensure public safety during the Thai New Year holiday period.

“The government had earlier announced a policy to demand all provinces lower their road accident statistics by 5%, but that failed…the government should make use of the NRSA committee in the reform of road safety by including it in its master plan to help prevent festive misery.”

In preparation for the mass holiday travel during the Songkran Festival, the Department of Land Transport has set up free vehicle examination centers across the country to ensure road safety.

 

As for the management of passenger vans operating on inter-provincial routes, the department said all of them are required to have GPS and driver identification devices installed by the end of this month.

It is hoped that the measure will allow authorities to pinpoint the vans and identify if they are speeding.

The highway carnage over what is called by the media the seven deadly days of Songkran, 11 to 17 April, reached 442 fatalities, last year, surpassing the 2015 toll by 21.43%, or 78 deaths.

It averages out at 63 deaths per day over the seven-day travel period, a statistic that resembles war zone casualties.

Injuries from road accidents during last year’s Songkran increased 2.73% to 3,656 compared with 3,559 in 2015. Road accidents (incidents rather than injuries) increased 2.19% to 3,447 compared with 3,373 during the same period in 2015.

Alcohol consumption was blamed for 34.09% of all accidents followed by dangerous driving 32.93%. Motorcycles were involved in the most accidents and the resulting serious injuries were linked to the majority of riders not wearing helmets.