CHIANG RAI – Celebrating Songkran this year in 66 provinces across the country celebrating the Thai traditional new year have been designated alcohol-free zones, under a joint campaign by the Culture Ministry, the Thailand Health Promotion Foundation and the Stop Drink Network.
The zones which all alcoholic drinks are banned include Khao Niew Road in Khon Kaen and Rob Khu Muang Road in Chiang Mai. The CentralWorld shopping centre is the only area in Bangkok to officially join in the campaign, although organisers on Silom and Khao San roads have promised to ban sales of alcoholic drinks during the festival, which runs until Monday.
The campaign is intended to show people they can enjoy the Songkran festival in an appropriate way, Songkran Pakchokedee, director of the StopDrink Network, said on Friday. The network is a forefront organisation pressing for a ban on sales of all alcoholic beverages during the festival holiday.
No-alcohol zones are places where people can take their family, their children, to have fun with no worries about being harassed or put in danger, Mr Songkran said.
The campaign appeared to be more popular this year, with venues in 16 more provinces deciding to participate. Last year 70 areas in 50 provinces decided to celebrate Songkran without alcohol, according to the network.
A survey after the festival last year involving revellers, vendors and organisers found that 86% supported the idea of alcohol-free zones.
Mr Songkran said the campaign aims to reduce the death toll during Songkran, when drunken revellers are a major factor in the horrific number of road accidents and casualties.
The government has again this year declared the “seven dangerous days” of Songkran, from April 11-17, and launched PR campaigns to try to stem the number of deaths and injuries.
According to the Public Health Ministry, there were 3,129 road accidents over Songkran in 2012, down from 3,215 reported in 2011. The number of injuries also dropped to 3,320 in 2012 from 3,476 in 2011.
However, the number of fatalities in 2012 went up to 320, from 271 in 2011. Of these, 60% involved motorcycle drivers and pillion riders who were not wearing safety helmets and had been drinking, the ministry said.
Exactly 20% of the road deaths were young people, including children, aged below 20-years-old, it added.
A total of 39 people were killed and 342 injured in 326 road accidents throughout the country on Thursday, the first of the seven dangerous days, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department reported on Friday.
Anusorn Kaewkangwan, deputy director-general of the department, said the number of road accidents was down by 17 on the same period last year.
The number of injuries had also dropped by 31, but the number of road deaths was up by nine, he added.
Chiang Rai and Nakhon Si Thammarat had the most road accidents, at 14 each, Mr Anusorn said.
Provinces with the most fatalities were Kanchanaburi, Samut Sakhon, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chiang Rai, Ayutthaya, Yasothon and Songkhla, with three each.
The provinces which remained accident-free were Chachoengsao, Chai Nat, Chaiyaphum, Trat, Si Sa Ket, Nong Khai, Amnat Charoen, Samut Songkhram, Pattani and Yala.
The main causes of accidents were drunk driving and speeding. Motorcycles and pickup trucks were involved in the largest number of accidents.
Mr Songkran said the government was not doing enough to staunch the death toll during long holidays, including Songkran, which claimed hundreds of lives every year.
“The government spent millions of baht to fight bird flu, which killed only a handful of people, but it pays little attention to deaths from road accidents,” he said.
Although the water festival officially begins on Saturday, people in provinces such as Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya began their fun on Friday, with numbers expected to swell as people arrive home from Bangkok and other work centres, and holiday makers flock into the provinces which are famous for the Thai traditional New Year festivities.
People began travelling out of Bangkok on Thursday by cars, trains, buses and in the back of pickups. Traffic jams began immediatley on main roads out of the capital, especially the Asian Highway to the North and the Mitrapap, or Friendship, Highway to the Northeast and beyond.
State inter provincial bus operator Transport Co and its partners scheduled extra services out of the capital and the State Railway of Thailand added more carriages and more trains, mainly on the northern and northeastern lines, to make sure that no travellers were stranded in Bangkok.
The SRT carried 130,000 passengers out of Hua Lamphong station on Thursday, about 50% more than the normal passenger load. More were expected to take the trains on Friday.
“There will not be single passenger left (at Hua Lamphong),” SRT Governor Prapat Chongsanguan promised on Friday.