Only 43% of Thais bother to wear a crash helmet when riding on a motorcycle, despite the government’s campaign for 100% helmet compliance since 2011, according to an extensive nationwide survey by two road safety groups. Foreign riders were not quoted in the survey but unofficially foreigners are just as negligent and at risk as Thai riders.
Danai Ruangsorn, Chairman of the Thai Roads Foundation, said the study, conducted in partnership with the Road Safety Watch group, observed motorcycle users at 3,200 locations in 77 provinces. Besides observational data, they also conducted interviews and took photographs and videos which were used in analysing the data.
The survey of helmet wearing in 2012 concluded that overall only 43% of people on motorbikes in Thailand wear crash helmets – 52% of drivers and 20% of passengers.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a good quality motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of death by around 40% and the risk of severe head injury by around 70%.
Three quarters of injuries sustained in road accidents in Thailand are connected in some way with motorcycles, according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM). Half of these accidents result in head injuries.
A recent survey of those not wearing a helmet came up with the most often stated reasons (excuses!) for nor wearing a helmet. What these answers are really saying is either I’m too lazy or its not fashionable.
• I am not going far (64%)
• I am on a small road (37%)
• I am in a hurry (29%)
• It is uncomfortable and dirty (21%)
• It messes up my hair, clothes (13%)
• I don’t want to carry it along with me (10%)
• The police won’t arrest me (8%)
• I don’t have a helmet (7%)
• The risk is low (6%)
• My passenger doesn’t wear a helmet (4%)
A study from the Accident Research Centre, Asian Institute of Technology says: “Loss of life due to motorcycle crash injuries has been a major problem in Thailand and other developing countries. Head injuries due to motorcycle accidents are the main cause of death or disability among motorcyclists in Thailand. Wearing a helmet is well known as one of the most effective ways to reduce severity of head injuries due to motorcycle crashes. The victims in the pillion position are less likely to use a helmet, and those who ride during the night time, regardless of the seating position, tend not to wear a helmet.”
The study pointed out that the straps of the helmet must be fastened; otherwise there is no protection value.
Thai law is very clear on the obligation of riders and passengers to wear crash helmets. The Land and Traffic Act B.E. 2522 (1979), Section 122 stipulates: “The rider and the passenger of a motorcycle shall wear a motorcycle helmet. The provision under this Section is not for monks, novices, ascetics, persons of other religions which require a turban, or any other person under Ministerial Regulation.”
The penalty is a fine not exceeding 500 baht for both riders and passengers, with the rider responsible.
Several brands of crash helmets, designed for adults and children, are sold at shopping centres, supermarkets and other retail spots, and they are quite affordable, ranging from about 149 baht up to 1,290 baht in one large international supermarket chain. In one small store the price ranged from 160 to 450 baht, and in some shops it is possible to buy a helmet for as little as 80 baht.
The price of an imported BMW helmet is between 21,000 and 55,000 baht, according to an authorised dealer in Bangkok. How well made and therefore how much protection a helmet gives in an accident is very hard to determine just by looking at it.
Every Thai-made and imported helmet should have the Thai Industrial Standard sticker: TIS 369-2539.
You Get What You Pay For
American Brian Abrahamson is director of foreign business development for Sumet Cycle Company in Nonthaburi. The company is an authorised Honda dealership and among other services sells motorcycle accessories, including crash helmets. Brian is an avid motorcyclist with a good knowledge about bikes.
“Cheap helmets selling for 200 or 300 baht are probably not very good quality. Whether they can protect the rider in a crash depends on the circumstances – if it’s at low speed, even a cheap helmet is better than nothing. Then again, you could have the best helmet on but if you are going fast enough there’s no guarantee that it is going to protect you. But generally cheaper helmets are made from cheaper plastic,” Brian said.
“If you take an expensive helmet and drop it on the ground, it won’t bounce. The cheaper ones bounce, so they aren’t absorbing the impact.
“Generally, Thais don’t like to wear helmets, especially the young kids who maybe think it’s not cool. A lot of girls don’t want to mess up their hair or get sweaty. And a lot of older people, if they’re just riding in the Soi to the 7- Eleven, then they don’t think it’s needed.
“But I would say to every motorcycle rider and passenger – and you hear this all the time – always wear a helmet even it is only a short ride. Our heads are very delicate. You can die just falling from the bicycle.”