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MAIL OPINION  By Shana Kongmun


The need for driver education

Beating a dead horse?

One of the biggest killers in Thailand is traffic accidents and Chiang Mai is always at the top of the list for those two holidays that get their own special countdown of “7 Deadly Days”; New Year and Songkran.
Every year the police and government institute campaigns just before the deadly season and generally to little avail. Promises of drunk driving crackdowns only appear at those times and then the rest of the year, no sign of a police patrol at night.
It seems that the real issue here isn’t a lack of traffic laws, they are certainly in place but a serious lack of driver education as well as police enforcement that seems to be only at certain times of the year or the day. I see regular police checkpoints for helmets (and yes I am pro - helmet and think that it’s great they are enforcing this law) but little else. I see people blaze through red lights in front of the police without fear of retribution because they are not traffic police and so therefor do not enforce traffic laws.
Additionally, I see people do many foolish, inconsiderate and downright dangerous things when driving. From texting while driving (I’ve seen this both on motorbike drivers and car drivers) to simply stopping without paying any attention to what traffic around the vehicle is doing. In fact a dear friend was badly injured when the driver of a car decided he needed to make a sudden stop at the 7-11 without checking his rearview mirror to see if someone might actually be behind him.
My father refused to teach me how to drive, he said, “I don’t want to teach you my bad habits.” Actually I am pretty sure he hadn’t gotten over the trauma of trying to teach my sister how to drive and wanted to forego a repeat of tears and temper. So, out of my own pocket I paid for driving lessons at a professional school. My teacher would not even let me begin to drive the car until I learned to understand it and how it worked, how much space it took up etc. I learned to determine what my car was capable of, and the religious use seatbelts, mirrors and spot checks on blind spots was deeply ingrained. I would no more drive a car without my seatbelt than I would go out on my motorbike without my helmet on. It is more than habit at this point; it just feels “wrong” somehow to do so.
My teacher taught me to pay attention to others on the road, to drive as if the world was out to get me. Actually, driving here, it feels like that quite often.
It seems to me that this lack of awareness for other drivers, either of cars or motorbikes, and of pedestrians is something that could be easily changed with education. Start them young! Teach driving safety in schools. Additionally, the test to obtain a license should involve real time driving on city streets and not just driving through some cones. There should be a mandatory driving lesson or three for people before they are allowed to take the test. I don’t know that it would help but it certainly would not hurt.
Are these things possible? Certainly, they are even doable. But whether or not the police and the government and the hospitals get fed up enough with the massive death toll over holidays, much less the injuries and deaths during the rest of the year to actually implement measures and enforce laws is a different story altogether.

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The need for driver education