6 June 2024

Thailand enters the annual “seven dangerous days” today (Dec 28) with sirens already sounding over efforts to meet its 2027 goal of cutting the appalling death toll from traffic accidents.

Road traffic fatalities currently stand at 25 for every 100,000 people – more than double the 12 per 100,000 targeted within the next four years. Also worth noting is that these figures do not reflect the thousands of accident victims left disabled for life.

The seven dangerous days occur over the New Year holidays when Thais hit the road in their millions for holidays or visits to their hometowns.

Last year, the seven days from December 29 to January 4 produced 2,440 accidents, killing 317 people and injuring 2,437 others. The most common causes of accidents were speeding (37.5%), drunk driving (25.49%), and swerving between traffic lanes (18.69%). Alarmingly, tests showed that over 50% of road accident victims had alcohol in their blood.

Annual road safety campaigns designed to reduce the deadly toll are being cranked up as the seven dangerous days approach.

However, experts say these efforts are being hampered by rules that allow vehicles to speed at 120 kilometers per hour on motorways, nighttime entertainment venues to stay open until 4am, and motorbike owners to postpone the installation of anti-lock braking systems. They also point to lax law enforcement and punishment, including relatively small fines for most traffic offenses.

Obstacles and recommendations

Dr Wittaya Chartbanchachai, a specialist on a World Health Organization panel on injury prevention, pinpoints government policies he claims are hindering efforts to meet goals in Thailand’s Road Safety Masterplan (2022-2027).

“An estimated 17,000 people will die in road accidents over the coming ‘seven dangerous days’, a toll that matches the previous year. Based on this, it is difficult to see how our country can fulfil the masterplan’s goal,” he said.

The masterplan calls for a cut in road fatalities to 12 for every 100,000 people by the end of 2027, or about 8,474 deaths per year.

“If we were on track, we would have already cut road fatalities by 3,000 this year,” Wittaya said.

He urged the government to establish a single command to monitor road safety operations and consider using other measures instead of just fines to combat traffic violations.

He also called for more traffic CCTV cameras, automatic issuance of traffic penalties, improved road conditions, and mandatory anti-lock braking for motorcycles.

Prevention better than cure

This year’s Global Status Report on Road Safety recorded 1.19 million deaths in road accidents, with the highest fatality rate in low and middle-income countries. Southeast Asia accounts for 28% of global road fatalities.

In Thailand, only 52% of motorcyclists and 21% of their passengers wear crash helmets, compared with 80% and 70% worldwide, according to Dr Sirirat Suwanrit, director of the Disease Control Department’s Injury Prevention Division.

“The use of safety belts in Thailand is also around 35.7% – far lower than the world average,” she said. Even more worrying are statistics showing that safety-belt usage in Thailand has been on the decline in recent years.

Sirirat said efforts to increase helmet and belt-wearing are major challenges in curbing road casualties.

Public Health Ministry data shows that 45% of people injured in road accidents were not wearing helmets. The vast majority of road accidents in Thailand involve motorcycles. Statistics also show that up to 71% of victims sustained injuries from accidents related to drunk driving.

Often-ignored problems

Montri Pramnak was hit by a pick-up truck while driving his motorcycle in Suphan Buri’s Song Phi Nong district in early 2021. Police said the pick-up driver was drunk.

The accident left Montri severely injured – bedridden, unable to speak and being fed through a tube. The court handed the pick-up truck driver a suspended sentence of two years and ordered him to pay 300,000 baht in compensation to the victim.

The victim’s family says Montri has only received 50,000 baht of that payment so far.

More shocking still is that the same pick-up truck driver crashed into another victim on the same road just eight months after hitting Montri. The second accident shattered the leg bones of 27-year-old victim Kan-ornpat Chaosuwan, leaving her disabled for life. Despite receiving surgery, she has been in a wheelchair for more than two years now.

“He has never taken any responsibility,” Kan-ornpat said of the driver.

The court sentenced the pick-up driver to two years in jail over the second accident and ordered him to pay one million baht in compensation. However, the victim’s father says he has only received 10,000 baht to date and has heard that the perpetrator is free after being granted bail ahead of his appeal.

Are punishments too light?

Under Thai law, drunk driving causing the death of a person is punishable with a jail term of three to 10 years, and/or a fine of 60,000 to 200,000 baht, and loss of the driver’s license.

A drunk driver who causes serious injury faces between two and six years in jail and/or a fine of 40,000 to 120,000, plus suspension or loss of their license.

Dr Pracha Kanyaprasit, a neurosurgeon at Chiangmai Ram Hospital, said alcohol consumption lowers a person’s ability to make snap decisions while reducing mobility, sense awareness, memory and rational decision-making.

“So, the more you drink, the higher the risk of an accident,” he said.

As such, many experts have expressed concern at the government’s recent decision to allow entertainment venues to open until 4am. Statistics show that under midnight closing rules, drunk-driving accidents mainly occur in the hours before 3am. Experts warn that switching closing times to 4am risks extending the drunk-driving carnage to the 7am rush hour and placing students and workers in the firing line.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk