Continuing tragedies on Thai roads have resulted in a number of declarations about the enforcement of road rules to apply now that the seven dangerous days of Songkran are over. Most recent efforts to rein in the carnage stem from a January 2nd crash in which 25 people riding in a truck and van were killed in Chonburi province. The van driver had been driving for days and dozed off at the wheel and the passengers did not die from the initial impact, but because they were trapped inside. Just prior to Songkran a number of declarations were made to about the enforcement of measures to reduce Thailand’s horrific road toll.
The announcements came just a week before hundreds of thousands of commuters hit the roads during Songkran, the Thai New Year holiday.
- All vehicle occupants must be buckled up
- Mini Vans cannot carry more than 13 passengers and will be phased out
- Riding in the back of pickup trucks is prohibited
- The permitted blood alcohol threshold lowered for drivers under 20 from 0.05 to 0.02 BAC
Many accepted the safety argument, but were also asking what alternatives exist if pickup trucks cannot be used during Songkran.
Trains are usually fully booked during the holidays, interprovincial buses are notoriously unsafe, and few working class families can afford flying. Less than one day after police started enforcing seat belt regulations which includes a ban against pickup trucks carrying passengers in the cab and on the back of the vehicles, the Royal Thai Police Office and the Land Transport Department decided to take a step back by postponing the enforcement of the regulation until after Songkran festival. “The strict enforcement regarding travelling in the cargo bed of pick-up trucks will return after the festival,” said Lieutenant General Witthaya Prayongpan, assistant commissioner of the Royal Thai Police. Meanwhile reactions on social media have been rapid and skeptical, asking questions about songthaews, tuk-tuks and transport for employment.
Thailand’s military government has invoked special executive powers aimed to force vehicle drivers and all their passengers to wear seatbelts.
Seat belts are compulsory wherever you sit The new seat belt measure enforces compliance by declaring that car owners who don’t pay fines for failing to have their passengers use seat belts will not be able to register their vehicles for a year.
Mini Van Transport
“We want the fewest casualties as possible in vans starting today, so we’re setting step-by-step precautions,” said Sanit Promwong, director general of the Land Transport Department. “We looked at the seating plans in many interprovincial vans and saw that operators like to squeeze four or even five seats into the last row so they can seat 14 or 15 passengers in the whole van.”
Operators must remove extra seats in the back row so there is an exit aisle of at least 20 centimetres and carry no more than 13 passengers. Vans which are notorious for frequent fatal accidents sometimes blamed on aftermarket modifications. “In an emergency situation, this space helps passengers to exit faster whether through the back or the front doors,” Sanit said.
The 13-passenger limit in interprovincial vans was announced in March with a 5,000 THB fine for operators. However, the department chief said authorities are likely to be lenient and may opt to issue fines of 500 THB and give the offenders a warning before the mandatory inspection of passenger vans in June.
Under pressure to rein in the carnage, the Department of Land Transportation said it will move forward a plan to phase out the vans in favor of 20 seat buses, originally slated for 2019, to begin in the middle of this year. Other practical solutions included installing GPS devices in each vehicle, former civilian Transport Minister Chatchart Sitthiphan said. “The signal sent back will tell us how fast these vehicles go and how risky a driver has been driving for 24 hours,” Chatchart said. “The Department of Land Transport has announced all public vans must use such systems.”
As for the government’s move to prohibit people from riding in the back of pickup trucks, Prime Minister General Prayut clarified that this law has already been in use for over 20 years and affirmed it will not be repealed.
Contrary to widespread misunderstanding that the measures were issued by the junta, the prohibition on truck-bed riding has been law since 1979, only now the authorities are choosing to enforce it. While the measure is not a matter of controversy, riding in truck beds has been common practice for decades.
Lowering the permitted blood alcohol limit in young drivers will help prevent accidents, a road safety organisation said of the cabinet’s endorsement to changing the law. The amendment approved at a meeting of the interim cabinet will lower the permitted blood alcohol threshold for drivers under 20 from the current limit of 0.05 to 0.02. The legal alcohol limit for those over 20 will remain 0.05. A director of ‘Don’t Drive Drunk Foundation’ said the measure is reasonable because research shows people under 20 and new drivers are responsible for the majority of car accidents and DUI cases. Younger drivers tend to be inexperienced and more reckless in their driving, said Taejing Siriphanich. “We want to decrease the risk for the group of people who are most at risk, when these people don’t consume alcohol; they are already at risk of accidents. If they consume it, they are even more at risk.”
It seems Thailand’s horrific road fatality record is firmly on the political radar, however many are skeptical about the reality of road rules enforcement. There’s also confusion about how the rules apply to the many different types of multi passenger vehicles. The use of pick-ups to provide mass transport has been fundamental to the way of life for many workers who may not have few alternatives. Past inability or unwillingness to enforce the wearing of motor cycle helmets is another reason for this skepticism. Complying with fundamental safety requirements is not about avoiding police attention. Instead we should all think about becoming part the solution to the nation’s road carnage shame.
Songkran festival celebrations claimed 390 lives and 3,808 injuries, the Road Safety Centre has said. Although the death toll this year was 52 lower than last year, the number of injuries increased by 36.