BANGKOK – Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul says the country must tighten safety and security for foreigners who explore the country by train or bus.
The minister said the government will make safety of foreign visitors a top priority following last week’s bus disaster that killed 19 people and injured another 21 when the Bangkok-bound bus they were travelling in was hit head-on by an 18-wheel truck. It burst into flames incinerating the victims who were trapped inside.
Police blamed the truck driver of falling asleep at the wheel, although experts point out that most of the double-deck buses used even by government transport companies do not comply with safety laws. Most of them have been modified illegally.
A week earlier a train on the Bangkok-Chiang Mai line derailed injuring some tourists.
“We have to seriously tighten travel safety for tourists…all vehicle drivers, both bus or train, have to pay attention to laws and speed limits, while traffic police and the Ministry of Transport’s Department of Land Transport should improve measures to deal with accidents when they occur,” the minister said.
He called on authorities to increase train and railway inspections, However, experts have been asking the department of transport to ensure all double-deck tour buses are built according to international safety standards.
According to a CNN report last week, several countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom and United States, have issued warnings to tourists and expatriate residents to avoid overland travel claiming the road conditions are poor and there is a lax enforcement of safety measures in Thailand.
However, Mr Surapong said he had not seen the CNN report.
He did say he was deeply concerned about road safety in Thailand. He pointed to a number of accidents that have occurred after cars break down on highways. Other vehicles crashed into them because there were no warning signs. In most countries drivers are obliged to carry hazard signs that are placed at a scene of a breakdown.
The most recent British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) “British Behavior Abroad” report, claimed there were more requests for emergency help in Thailand than anywhere else in Asia, However, Thailand is also the top destination for UK visitors in Asia with a much higher volume of visitors annually than any other Southeast Asian destination.
The FCO’s official advisory on Thailand also points to “serious accidents involving other vehicles including cars, long-distance buses and mini-buses” as being a risk to everyone both tourists and citizens.
“Many accidents are due to poor vehicle and driver safety standards,” the report suggested.
Earlier this year, the FCO launched a website aimed at keeping British nationals safe, while driving in foreign countries.
Part of a new road safety campaign, the site was developed in response to reports of a high number of road traffic incidents involving British tourists and expats in popular destinations, such as Thailand, Australia and Spain.
“In Thailand, a country with 50,000 British residents and over 870,000 British visitors a year, there were 68,582 road traffic incidents resulting in 9,205 deaths involving both Thai residents and tourists in 2011,” said the UK government post announcing the new campaign.
“In contrast 1,901 people were killed in road accidents in the UK in 2011.”
The US Department of State has a similar warning on its Thailand travel advisory page, updated in March 2013.
“Speeding, reckless passing, and failure to obey traffic laws are common in all regions of Thailand,” warned the advisory.
“Commercial drivers commonly consume alcohol and amphetamines. Bus crashes occur frequently, especially on overnight trips, and sometimes result in fatalities. Congested roads and a scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention.”
According to the WHO’s most recent report on global road safety statistics, in 2010 Thailand had an estimated 38 road traffic deaths per 100,000 people, making it one of the world’s deadliest places to be on the road.
The report says 74% of Thailand’s road traffic deaths were attributed to motorcycle accidents. by Wanwisa Ngamsangchaikit