You may shake your head in disbelief when you learn that reckless drivers who cause fatal accidents in Thailand can walk away without a jail sentence.
On Jan 31 this year, Chinese tourist Tan Cunni died after being hit by a pickup truck while trying to take the best photo possible in front of Pong Nam Ron Market in Chiang Rai. The driver was Pol Sgt Chakrapol Phromthaweeporn, who was stationed in Chiang Mai. He’s now on bail.
On Feb 21, Tiwarat Chaiphidet, driving his pickup truck, hit and killed the Chilean inter-continental cyclist Juan Francisco Guillermo Villa, and injured his wife who was riding another bike with their two-year old son. The court handed Tiwarat a 7,500 baht fine and suspended two-year sentence.
On April 15, two Chinese tourists were killed after being hit by a car while crossing the Phetchakasem Road to Prachuap Samm Ao Hotel in Prachuap Khiri Khan. The driver was Thanuwit Khamnij, who said he couldn’t hit his breaks in time. He got bail.
None of the drivers spent a single night in prison. Police officers reasoned that they couldn’t be detained as they had turned themselves in. The cases, except Tiwarat’s, haven’t yet reached the criminal courts. However, I think I know what the verdicts will turn out to be.
Based on a number of court verdicts, most drivers charged with careless driving resulting in death, do not face a jail term as long as they do not flee the scene, show humanity by trying to help the victims, and offer compensation. They must also report the incident to police officers immediately. In addition, if they have no previous criminal record, courts tend to be lenient and hand down a suspended jail term.
Where is the sense of justice? No matter how many road safety campaigns are launched, lives are still lost daily on the roads. Statistics from the Royal Thai Police show that there were 61,140 road accidents last year, resulting in 6,215 deaths and 20,457 injuries.
On average, 167 accidents occurred each day and, on average, 17 people died every day. The top cause of death was found to be vehicle failure, followed by going over the speed limit, changing lane abruptly, driving too close to a vehicle in front, and drunk driving.
Latest research from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, comparing 193 countries, ranks Thailand second in the world behind Namibia in terms of traffic fatalities, with 44 deaths per 100,000 people, rising from 38 deaths in 2013.
When compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand ranks number one, followed by Malaysia (with 30 deaths per 100,000 people), Vietnam (24), Indonesia (21), Laos (17), Cambodia (15), Brunei (14), Myanmar (10), the Philippines (9) and Singapore (6).
I think we seriously need to change things, starting with the process of obtaining a driving licence, through to law enforcement and the law itself. In Thailand, we can get our driving licence in one day. However, in developed countries, the process takes more time and effort.
In Germany, for example, those who want to apply for a driving licence must attend first aid training and a life support course. They must then pass a visual examination before attending a professional driving school and later undergoing a theory test. Finally, learners must pass a practical road test.
An officer from the transport department will sit in the car to keep an eye on how an applicant drives on the roads. If the learner makes a turn only by signalling and looking at the side mirror, but not checking the ‘blind spot’, he/she will fail the test. In Thailand, we also need traffic policemen to simply do their jobs — enforce the law. We all know that enforcement here is very weak. We can negotiate with policemen even if one is caught drunk driving.
Unfortunately, traffic policemen encourage us to violate traffic rules. We see it every day on an expressway, especially during rush hour. Policemen always gesture for us to drive in the emergency lane. This has become the norm and we do it any time of the day and on any road. No punishment is given to those who go beyond the speed limit. No one is caught for illegally overtaking another vehicle in the left lane.
Laws relating to road accidents, including the 1979 Land Traffic Act, should be revised. Reckless drivers who cause fatalities must not be charged only for “careless driving” resulting in death, but for “dangerous driving”, as people are killed because of their recklessness.
I sigh when realising that our government has not yet come up with any concrete action to reduce fatal accidents. Those who have lost their lives deserve justice. The government must make a move before Thailand becomes the number one country in the world for deaths from road crashes.
By Karnjana Karnjanatawe