After a recent story in the Bangkok Post relating to Thailand road deaths placing it the second highest in the world behind Libya, I wanted to expand upon the well written story with some personal insights from a farang in Thailand.
I have lived in the Kingdom now for near on a year, and in that time I have covered tens of thousands of kilometers on Thai roads in both a car and on a motorcycle.
So lets start this by looking at some recent statistics. During the recently well publicized “seven dangerous days” of Songkran, 442 peoples were killed and 3’447 road accidents were officially recorded. More than any previous year during the same period.
Now what types of things have I personally noted that are contributing factors to this incredibly high and shameful record? The simplest way to look at it is the ingrained culture of not being held accountable for your actions. Some examples of this can be seen with motorcycle riders not wearing helmets, trucks and pickups being overloaded, buses not having seatbelts, people in general not wearing seatbelts in cars, speeding and a general disregard for road and personal safety.
When you spend any decent time on the roads here, you will also witness drivers inability to use the roadways the way they have been designed. Take roundabouts as a prime example. I watch with utter shock as these traffic moving devices do nothing more than congest traffic further. Why is that? It is simply because the give way to your right is not observed. The attitude seems to be one of I want to drive from point A to point B, so I will do so in whatever manner I see fit to be the easiest.
Consequences never seem to be at the forefront of peoples minds. It’s simply I need to do something, so I will do it. I will carry items on my motorcycle in a dangerous manner because I need to, with no other option to transport and nobody is going to stop me.
Police spend their time sitting in the air conditioned booths at traffic intersections, for what purpose? Even if you sit there for 5 minutes, you will see people running red lights, making illegal turns, riding without helmets and speeding. And what is done about this? Absolutely nothing. Why? Because it is easier to just let them all be. It’s not until an accident occurs that these protectors of society will venture out to actually do something helpful.
I was asked some time ago what the speed limits were in Thailand, and I scoffed at the ridiculous question. I saw it as a stupid question simply for the fact that nobody abides by any speed limits, and you also need to do the same. You need to keep up with the flow of traffic to ensure your own safety.
Now in my riding a motorcycle on the roads here, I have had close calls that could have resulted in death more times than I really want to admit. Most often these occur through selfish acts by other motorists. They want to cut across my path, so they do so with the mindset that I will move of stop as I don’t wish to hit them, and sometimes those calls can be extremely close and if I was not paying close attention I would end up as yet another statistic.
Now don’t get me wrong with all my apparent cynicism on these facts, there are always police and government crackdowns on traffic in the news, but generally there seems to be quite a lax attitude towards safety.
I have been to the traffic branch and seen the driving tests performed to obtain a car or motorcycle license, and all I can say with regards to this is that considering what the traffic is ‘really’ like in Thailand, these tests are far from what is really needed to demonstrate a competency for tackling the roads in a safe and appropriate manner.
This isn’t the first time I have felt the need to speak about this, I have written two other stories with my take on the bodybagged tourists (Part 1 Part 2)that come to Thailand looking for adventure in the tropical paradise and end up going home dead.
What can be done to curb this cultural epidemic? Appropriate education is a starting point to this, followed by increased enforcement of illegal behavior on the roads so that drivers and riders start to realise they are accountable for their actions and not just flying under the radar and hoping they don’t become another Thai statistic.