BANGKOK, 19 April 2018: Songkran’s seven deadly days, 11 to 17 April, dispensed gruesome carnage and life changing injuries reminiscent of a war zone.
Despite the best efforts of government and road safety agencies, the week delivered a set of horrific statistics, the kind that routinely haunt this annual fun festival year-after-year.
Lives lost, lives irreparably damaged, families shattered, whatever way you look at it 3,724 accidents, 3,897 people injured and 418 deaths is a national disaster.
But it is not a seven-day disaster. It’s year-round. The carnage on Thai roads doesn’t miraculously improve when the festival ends. It continues with an average daily toll of 66 deaths, based on World Health statistics that estimate at least 24,000 people die on Thai roads annually. WHO believes the accidents, injuries and fatalities costs the country 3 to 5% of its annual GDP.
In the long-run, Thailand’s laudable national health service will falter under the strain of treating road casualties many of who will require treatment for their entire lives due to severity of their injuries.
There is a takeaway from the dreadful litany of injury and death. We are all responsible. Yes, we know the Police need to seriously improve their game. Law enforcement is in a sorry state of neglect. But we can do our bit by making a commitment to abide by the Highway Code. We can also show consideration and respect for other road users especially the most vulnerable.
The Thailand Health Promotion Foundation calls for year-round education and awareness programmes supported by a media prepared to investigate and go beyond the immediate details of accidents to uncover the causes and present solutions.
Awareness begins in schools with sessions led by safety officers who teach students the basics of the Highway Code.
School playgrounds are packed with motorcycles parked there for the day, no helmets and most of the drivers lack a genuine licence. There is a lack of enforcement by school authorities. When asked, the typical excuse from headmasters goes something like: “They (students) would not be able to attend school if they didn’t drive a motorcycle.”
During Songkran, I saw tourists apprehended and ticketed for riding motorcycles without helmets or not having a driving licence. They looked surprised, perhaps even bemused that the Police bothered to apprehend them.
The assumption is that anything goes in Thailand. The rules you would live by back home can be bent out of shape because you are on holiday.
But perhaps times are changing. If the Prime Minister keeps his promise to tackle the lack of road safety law enforcement we should take note that the free-and-easy times could well and truly be drawing to a close.
Basic tips on driving in Thailand supported by Songkran’s latest statistics.
Don’t rent a motorcycle if you have no previous experience. Thailand is not the place to learn motorcycle skills. The statistics show around 79.85% of the people injured, or killed on Thai roads, were driving motorcycles.
Don’t fluff the driving licence requirement. If you do and you are involved in an accident you will forfeit your insurance cover and will be held responsible for all damage and medical expenses. There is no compulsory insurance cover for rented motorcycles.
Speeding causes around 26.50% of accidents in Thailand. Beware of quiet country lanes, as secondary roads are more dangerous than major divided highways. Abrupt cutting in when overtaking causes 22% of accidents and 40.28% are caused by drink driving.
Drive in daylight
Late afternoon, 1600 to 2000, is the most dangerous time to be on Thai roads. It is probably due to light conditions and possibly office workers or farmers drinking before they drive home.
If you are not familiar with Thai road conditions don’t drive at night. Local farmers drive their tractors home without lights and invariably you will come across a motorcycle with a faulty backlight or no lights at all. Some will wave a torch in the air to illuminate a path home. It tends to confuse on-coming vehicles. Other night-time obstacles are vehicles with no lights parked on the verge of a highway or unlit road works.
Motorcycles turning right will avoid the danger of waiting on the central orange dividing line. They will invariable stop on the far left verge and turn right across both lanes and often without signalling.
Drivers will often filler left from a secondary road to a highway without stopping or looking right resulting in accidents.