Carnage on Thailand’s lethal roads

We are happy to have our Automologist MAC back safely after his trip to Thailand, but it wasn't all smiles and mai pen rai s while he ...

We are happy to have our Automologist MAC back safely after his trip to Thailand, but it wasn't all smiles and mai pen rais while he was there.

I have just come back from a business trip in Thailand and had to suffer the usual white knuckle road trips around the nation’s capital of Bangkok, where the elevated highways seem to be an ad hoc race circuit for much of the day. Whilst I was there, it was announced that the roads in Thailand are now the second most dangerous in the world by the World Health Organization, second only to Libya and there is a war going on there.

Every year, the Thai Government announces a new target for the reduction of road fatalities in the Kingdom and every year this is higher than the previous year. The messages will exhort the driving public to refrain from drinking or driving during the two big holidays there, the first for New Year and the second in April for Songkran, but all to no avail.

There have even been publicity stunts and well-meaning citizens like the coffin-maker who publicized the stockpile of coffins he had on hand to cater for the holiday season, yet every year the grim statistics of death and carnage on the roads increases, as was the case this year when 478 people lost their lives in a seven-day period over the new year. In total last year, a staggering 24,000 people died, that is 65 people a day, 73% of them motorcyclists.

Thailand has a road network almost unrivalled in South East Asia, with over 462,000 paved roads and an abundance of multi-lane motorways. But with 37 million registered vehicles and plenty more unregistered getting about in Thailand, it can be more like a drug-fuelled game of Grand Theft Auto at the local video arcade than a way to get from A to B. The total number of vehicles on the roads has shot up by 30% in the past five years. Drunk-driving is a huge problem for the country, but this is not the only cause. There is also the failure of enforcement, whereby the local police routinely ignores drivers who are going just excessively fast and only book those whose speed is approaching insanity. The reason perhaps is the police's attitude to traffic management, whereby keeping the roads flowing is seen as more important than enforcing the law. And who cares when you get a speeding ticket; the fine is only about US$30 after all and if you are from a rich family, you can seemingly ignore the courts.

Speed is the main killer, and not the type you get when you put your foot on the accelerator. About 5% of the Thai population are users of a drug called Yaba, which translates to crazy medicine in the Thai language, a potent mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine. The alternative name for this concoction is Nazi Speed and it is a favourite of the long-distance truck and bus drivers who use it to stay alert during their all-night journeys.

The Military Government is about to approve ten new changes to the driving laws, including the use of rear seatbelts and motorcycle lanes in what is the biggest changes to local road safety laws in the past forty years apparently. But the local population is somewhat cynical; after all, there is a saying there that a true Thai follows his own rules and thus perhaps the style of driving is embedded in the Thai DNA and the carnage is set to continue.


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