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MAIL OPINION  By Shana Kongmun


Once again, the 7 dangerous days of New Year will prove deadly

Thailand ranks 3rd in traffic accident fatalities in the world

In a report from the World Health Organization from data collected in 2010 Thailand ranked third in the world for road traffic fatalities. Thailand had a fatality rate of 38.1 per 100,000 people, only Eritrea and Libya were worse. Even worse, Thailand’s rate of fatalities is 118.8 per 100,000 motor vehicles. I can only assume that this includes motorbikes as well as cars. With the new car buyer scheme adding almost a million and a half new cars on Thailand’s roads, the numbers are guaranteed to grow.
The rates have, in all likelihood, not dropped at all. Last year’s 7 dangerous days of the New Year saw a total of 365 dead, up from the year before which saw 335 killed. An 8% rise in people killed in road accidents. Yet again this year the Thai police say they are “gearing up” for the New Year season but really the issue goes beyond 7 days in the New Year when far too many people die.
The police plan on putting up drunk driving checkpoints and performing Breathalyzer tests but in rural Chiang Mai one has to wonder how many checkpoints there will be and how vigilant the police will be.
Apparently the government plans on banning private buses, cars and pickup trucks going up Doi Suthep from December 28 to January 2 to alleviate traffic. A boon for anyone who needs to use Huay Kaew, Canal and Nimmanhaemin roads but again, these short term measures are just that; short term.
Our former governor, M.L. Panadda Diskul, now the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Interior, chaired the 11th Road Safety Seminar last week and noted that enforcement of road safety laws on issues such as wearing helmets, drunk driving, and speeding was not tough enough, he also pointed out that despite ongoing government efforts, accident rates are not dropping fast enough. One Australian road safety expert stated that the best way to reduce road traffic accidents was to increase awareness of traffic laws and stringent enforcement of the traffic laws.
Really, the awareness needs to start young. Kids in the village are driving scooters at the age of 8 or 9, in town they are usually a little bit older, maybe 12 or so, but still far too young to be driving. Education in schools is key, proper driving classes with instruction on the laws and the rules of the road and why they are the way they are. Many people seem to think that traffic laws are there to ruin their fun but there is a reason to yield the right of way, to stop for red lights and the other laws. They are there to keep the roads safe. The U.S. hardly has a stellar record on accidents but compared to Thai roads, driving in the United States is safe and easy. By comparison, the United States is 10.4 per 100,000 in the same study. The United Kingdom has a very low 2.75 per 100,000 people.
Why is the U.K. so low? Because obtaining a driver’s license there is quite difficult, expensive and requires serious driver training courses. If there are driver training courses in Thailand they are incredibly rare, I have never heard of someone taking one.
So, education at all ages and all levels is clearly one way to change things. Additionally, the driving test is incredibly simple and does not even involve driving in traffic. Having a real practical test that must be passed honestly is the second step. Finally, real enforcement of the laws is fundamental. Not just helmet and seatbelt checks on odd corners of the road to fine people but, ensuring that the traffic police are out there enforcing the laws regularly; running red lights, driving down the wrong side of the road, failure to yield, and yes, drunk driving. According to reports from last year, most people who were killed were driving drunk and usually on a motorbike.
Police need to be out every single night of the week, not just Fridays and Saturdays and not just the 7 days around Songkran or New Year but every night, late into the night, stopping drunk drivers. Penalties for driving drunk need to be severe.
The government announced a ten year national policy on road safety starting in 2011 to 2020, for the sake of Thailand, let’s hope that policy translates into action and education.

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Once again, the 7 dangerous days of New Year will prove deadly