After many years of attempting to ignore the situation,
the central government finally agreed a couple of years ago that the
Songkran road toll was too high. Various attempts have been made since then
to correct the situation, but not with much success. Amongst these have been
threats of breathalyzers being used to find the drunken drivers and get them
off the road, gas stations not allowed to sell alcohol to minors, and
posting police patrols to make sure motorcycle riders have a helmet on their
heads (as they ride past). The rest of the time, the helmet, usually of
questionable capabilities, is left in the wire carrier at the front of the
machine, or if worn is not done up.
There is always a difference in Thailand between passing
laws and then policing them. Particularly when the law is not popular with
either public or police. So where does the government go from here?
The first, and dare I say it, very obvious proposal, is
to limit exposure over Songkran. If you stand in the road for 12 hours a
day, you are more likely to be knocked over than someone who only stands
there for one hour a day. Simple logic that everyone can understand.
Currently, Songkran lasts generally around one week, depending upon which
part of the country you are in. So during Songkran you are metaphorically
standing in the middle of the road for seven days. Even greater chance of
getting knocked over.
The answer is some careful gazetting by the government.
Make the third Saturday in April a national day of reverence towards one’s
elders, not a water throwing day. Make the Sunday after the day of
reverence, the national Songkran day for water fights. The same date, all
over the country. Make the Monday after the water fight Sunday a recovery
holiday with no water, and let everyone return to their homes.
In this way there is still a three day Thai New Year,
there is the traditional respect to the elders, an important part of Thai
society, there is a water fight fun day, and a day to recover as well. The
length of time you are left at risk standing in the road is now only one
The end result of this would be a dramatic drop in the
Songkran road toll, with no policemen standing on street corners attempting
to enforce unenforceable legislation on an uninterested populace. It must be
worth a thought. Surely?
The second nettle that the politicians are afraid to
grasp, will have tangible benefits for the future safety of motorcyclists in
Thailand, but not immediately. The government already has the statistics to
show that 80 percent of road deaths are motorcycle riders. The government
has to legislate the minimum standard of helmet approved in this country.
Currently there is either no minimum, or it is so low it is ludicrous. The
plastic crash helmets are suitable to hold ice cream, not brains.
It is not difficult to find this minimum standard. The
government can adopt the standards as promulgated by the UK, EU, USA or
Australia. There is no testing necessary by the government. Retail outlets
are given 12 months grace, by which time all helmets for sale in Thailand
must meet the minimum standard. The onus on achieving that standard rests
with the manufacturers. Eventually, over the next couple of years, the
helmets worn in this country will all meet that standard, as the ice cream
buckets have a very limited life.
The final point is an amendment to existing legislation
and refers to the wearing of safety helmets. All people carried on a
motorcycle must wear a helmet (and I would not worry about specifying how
many people) and all helmets must be done up. Thais will always go three,
four or five up on a motorcycle until all Thais can afford motor cars. The
government will then have adequately provided for, and protected, the group
most at risk - the 80 percent of fatalities coming off motorcycles without
adequate head protection.