THAILAND – Thailand’s famed Songkran New Year festival has been in full swing for days, but this year water is not the only thing flying. The seven-day festival perhaps best known for its raucous water battles, has also been marked by a rise in traffic accidents, with tens of thousands of people driving back to their hometowns, sometimes at high speeds and sometimes after a few drinks.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 2,000 road accidents have been recorded since April 11, when people started traveling. That’s a 6.8% rise over the same period a year earlier. According to authorities, some 43% of those accidents were caused by drunk driving.
For years the government has spearheaded an awareness campaign to inform people about the dangers of drinking and driving around major holidays, such as Songkran and the Western New Year, when traffic accidents also increase.
Panadda Diskul, the deputy permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry, told reporters Tuesday that related authorities across Thailand have been asked to set up additional road service points to monitor traffic and assist travelers who may need help as revelers start making their way back to Bangkok Wednesday, the last day of the celebration.
Despite an increase in the number of accidents, fatalities have fallen around 6.8% from the year earlier to 204 recorded deaths. The number of injured increased 6.0% on-year to over 2,100 according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
Police officers have been stationed at key festival locations across the country to prevent the various celebrations from getting out of control as the crowds grow bigger and more wild. In the past, there have been reports of brawls and sexual abuses among revelers.
Since celebrations began on Saturday, television news footage has shown major celebration grounds across Thailand packed with revelers, many of them shooting water at one another from plastic guns.
Each year Songkran offers creative Thai minds a chance to be innovative with their water flinging apparatuses. It also allows toy makers to show off their latest products. This year Japanese anime characters Cony and Brown, created by the Line messaging app, and Sanrio’s Hello Kitty and her buddy Rilakkuma are among the many attractive designs that have been out in force.
In rural parts of Thailand, it’s more common for people to pile into the back of pick-up trucks and splash water from giant containers onto passers-by.
Of course, Thais also have not forgotten the roots of the New Year holiday, which lie in visits to Buddhist temples and to their families to receive blessings for a good year ahead from their elders.
Water has long been associated with the Songkran holiday because it is integral to the spring cleaning aspect of the festival. Part of the annual ritual involves the cleansing of Buddha images. The water from the ‘cleansing’ is then poured over people, particularly elders, as way of paying respect and bringing good fortune. -By Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol