BANGKOK – As deaths from road accidents in Thailand continue to rise the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Thai authorities to explore appropriate measures to create better road safety.
WHO’s report on global road safety for 2018 has found that in Thailand, the number of road fatalities reached about 22, 000 persons per year, or an average of 60 deaths a day, which has now stood first in Asia, surpassing Vietnam and Malaysia.
The majority of the death was youngsters aged between 15 – 29 and most of them were motorcyclists and tricycle drivers.
WHO suggested that the Thai authorities concentrate more on building more road safety measures for young motorcyclists. A “lead agency” responsible for resolving the problem should be established urgently.
Meanwhile, A ritual that is now very familiar to Thais, before the two big holiday seasons of the year, in late December for the new year, and in April for the Songkran Festival, know as the 7 dangerous days.
The government will set a target for reducing fatalities on Thailand’s notoriously dangerous roads, exhorting Thais not to speed, or drink and drive.
Sometimes good citizens will run publicity stunts, like the coffin-maker, who last year invited journalists to film the huge stockpile his workers were building up for the holiday season.
And every year these efforts fail.
The grim statistics of death and injury on the roads are tallied each day in the media with, as often as not, worse figures than the year before.
And so it was this last new year – 478 people lost their lives on the roads in just seven days.
Thailand’s roads are currently ranked the second most lethal in the world after Libya’s by the World Health Organization.
This status is all the more extraordinary given the fact that Thailand has been peaceful and increasingly prosperous for decades, with governments that in other fields, like healthcare and infrastructure, have made impressive progress.
Law Enforcement Problem
“Enforcement is the key and punishment needs to be big enough for people to be afraid of it. And the safety campaigns must be continuous, not just at peak seasons. Then we need to move on to issues like improving the engineering of roads, former Deputy Transport Minister and safety campaigner Nikorn Chamnong Says.
“We need to go back and change the DNA of the country,” he says. “Education, right back in schools, is important”.
Chamnong has been petitioning the current military-appointed National Assembly to do more. It is now on the point of approving ten changes to driving laws, including mandating the use of rear seat-belts – overall the largest overhaul of road safety legislation in 40 years.
But no-one knows how well these laws will be enforced.
Members of the public are cynical. “There is a saying, that a true Thai follows his own rules,” said Pongsak Putta, a motorbike taxi driver, who was hit by a car and injured over the new year.
“As long as it does not happen to them, people do not think safety is an issue,” said Pornpen Wongbantoon, who complains about the poor driving of the buses she has to take to work.
“Enforcement is everything,” says Dr Liviu Vedrasco, who works on road safety at the World Health Organization.
The government officials he works with are serious about road safety, he believes, but co-ordination is a real challenge.
By Geoff Thomas
Sources: TNA, BBC