While it is not clear whether the news channels present the carnage as entertainment or warning to the motorists, there’s no doubt that the relevant authorities need to force motorists to obey traffic laws starting with a drastic increase in the punishment of offenders.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2018 put the death toll per 100,000 people at 32.7, making Thai roads the deadliest in Southeast Asia.
Only seven other nations - six in Africa and one in Latin America - had worse numbers than Thailand: Liberia (35.9); Saint Lucia (35.4); Burundi and Zimbabwe (34.7); Democratic Republic of Congo and Venezuela (33.7); Central African Republic (33.6).
Optimists point out that eighth place is an improvement over recent WHO reports that ranked Thailand No. 1 and No. 3.
With a network of mostly well maintained roads that stretch across 500,000 kms, including some 400,000 km in rural areas, Thailand is an attractive proposition for motorists, truckers and motorcyclists. Maybe this is what tempts people to go into debt with a car loan – even in places like
Bangkok where the roads are more like parking lots much of the time.
Almost anyone can manage payments on a small motorcycle, although in recent years bigger, faster and much more expensive bikes have become common. Motorcycles are a great way to beat traffic, but unfortunately they leave the riders much more vulnerable if something goes wrong.
Police say the main factors contributing to road accidents are drunk driving and a general disregard for safety precautions, causing drivers to commit errors in judgment such as driving too fast, making illegal turns, overtaking in unsafe situations and speeding through traffic lights seconds after they turn red.
Essential advice for drivers
• Just like anywhere else, a local driver’s license and first-class insurance are essential, especially if you are involved in a traffic accident.
• Don’t expect much courtesy from other motorists and don’t assume they will give you the right of way. If another driver is intent on pushing his/her way into your path, swallow your pride and let them go, otherwise they might hit you.
• When approaching a traffic light that has just turned or is turning red, look behind to see if another motorist is hot on your tail. They might assume you are going through and might even be accelerating. In such a case you have a tough call to make. If possible it’s a good idea to keep a little distance ahead of the car behind you, but this is often not easy.
• For the reason just mentioned, normally motorists waiting at a traffic light wait a little after the green light comes on to make sure no one is trying to beat the red light.
• Always keep some distance back from the vehicle in front of you to give you some reaction time if it suddenly slows down or stops. You don’t want to keep too much distance, however, because someone will invariably swerve in front of you from an adjacent lane even if it only gains them a few inches. This happens all the time and it is very annoying as well as dangerous.
• Motorcyclists represent the biggest danger to motorists and themselves on the roads, especially up-country where riders typically don’t use helmets and dress in simple clothing. This leaves them more exposed to serious injury in even a minor accident. To make matters worse, it’s common to see three or more people riding on one motorcycle.
• Instead of keeping to the left side of the roadway, motorcyclists sometimescross over into the lanes reserved for oncoming traffic, often at high speed. This is especially true of big bike riders, and there are plenty of them around these days. To avoid colliding with a motorcycle you must watch front, back and both sides of your vehicle, and don’t change lanes abruptly.
• If you are stopped by the police, keep cool and don’t argue, even if you feel certain you haven’t broken any traffic laws. And try to smile. With the right attitude, chances are good they will let you off with a warning unless they’ve stopped you for a serious offence like going through a red light.
Also, don’t try to offer money to a police officer to let you off, even if you have heard this is the accepted practice. You could be charged with a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment up to five years, a fine up to 10,000 baht, or both, as outlined in Section 144 of the Penal Code of Thailand.
This applies to both sides. Police soliciting a bribe are subject to the same punishments, under Section 143. If a police officer does ask for money, insist on a ticket.
Confusing statistics: Deaths that are not counted
The tables below list the official numbers of road accident deaths from 2017 to 2020. Since the authorities only record fatalities at the scene, and not those who succumb to their injuries in hospital or even the ones that die on the way to the hospital, the actual numbers may be much higher. Most unofficial estimates, including those from Thai road safety advocates, put the figure between 24,000 and 26,000 annually when all deaths directly related to traffic accidents are added in.
Senior Thai government officials admitted last year that the fatalities figure was in excess of 20,000, and Deputy Interior Minister Niphon Bunyamanee said on February 11 this year that road accidents kill 22,000 people per year in Thailand. That would mean that on average 65 people die every day in traffic accidents on the country’s roads.
For context, this is more than the official death toll from COVID-19 in Thailand. From the first reported COVID-19 death on February 29, a total of 58 people had died from the disease as of August 31.
The number of road fatalities during Songkran this year decreased by 219 from the previous 12 months because of the nationwide lockdown. There were far fewer vehicles on the roads, a curfew was in place, and maybe more relevant, a pretty strict alcohol ban was imposed.
Rules of the Road: What you should know
Land Traffic Act B.E. 2522 (1979)
As many foreigners, residents and tourists own or rent motor vehicles in Thailand, this compilation of relevant parts of the Land Traffic Act B.E. 2522 (1979) might be useful.
Also included are penalties for violations, which in many cases seem low in comparison to other countries. This may be one reason so many people show a lack of respect for traffic laws.
• Vehicles must not scrape the road or emit gas, dust, smoke, etc. exceeding the regulations. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• Cars and motorcycles must have a horn which is audible from a distance of 60 meters. (Fine not exceeding 200 baht).
• Cars and motorcycles can use the horn only to avoid danger or accidents. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• A driver is responsible for not allowing his passengers, animals, or cargo to fall, leak, give out a smell, reflect light, etc, which may cause harm or danger to the public. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• As for traffic lights, the Act explains that on yellow, the driver shall prepare to stop the vehicle behind the stop line. If the driver has passed the stop line when the traffic light turns yellow, he may go through. At a red light, the driver shall stop the vehicle behind the stop line. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• One long whistle made by police means stop, and two short whistles means proceed. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• The driver shall exercise care not to hit pedestrians and should use the horn if it is necessary. The driver shall be especially careful with children, the elderly and disabled persons.
• If the road is divided into two or more traffic lanes going in the same direction, the driver shall keep to the outmost left-hand side lane. If this is a bus lane, the driver shall keep close to the bus lane except in the following situations:
1. There is an obstruction on the road.
2. The road is declared as one-way.
3. It is necessary to enter the correct lane upon approaching a junction.
4. When overtaking another vehicle.
5. When driving faster than vehicles in the left lane. (Fine of 200 to 500 baht).
• No driver shall operate a vehicle:
1. While incompetent to drive.
2. While intoxicated by liquor or other alcoholic drinks.
3. In a manner that obstructs traffic.
4. With carelessness or recklessness which may cause danger to persons or property.
5. On a footpath without sufficient cause. (Fine of 400 to 1,000 baht).
• No driver shall overtake another vehicle from the left side unless:
1. The vehicle to be overtaken is making a right turn or has given a signal that it is going to make a right turn.
2. The roadway is arranged with two or more traffic lanes going in the same direction. (Fine of 400 to 1,000 baht)
• The driver shall not overtake another vehicle when:
1. Driving up a slope, bridge or curve, except where there is a traffic sign permitting to overtake.
2. Within a distance of 30 meters from a pedestrian crossing, junction, circle or railroad crossing.
3. Fog, rain or dust prevents visibility of more than 60 meters.
4. Entering congested area of a safety zone. (Fine of 400 to 1,000 baht).
• A driver shall not stop his vehicle:
1. In a traffic lane except when stopping close to the curbside, provided there’s no bus lane.
2. On a footpath.
3. On a bridge or in a tunnel.
4. At a junction.
5. Where there is a ‘No Parking’ traffic sign.
6. The entrance or exit of a building or roadway, or in a safety zone. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• Unless otherwise granted by this Act or other regulation, no driver shall park his vehicle:
1. On a footpath, bridge or in a tunnel.
2. At a junction or within a distance of 10 meters from a junction.
3. At a crossing or within a distance of three meters from a crossing.
4. In an area where there is a ‘No Parking’ traffic sign.
5. Within a distance of three meters from a hydrant.
6. Within a distance of 10 meters from a traffic sign installation.
7. Within a distance of 15 meters from a railway crossing.
8. In the manner of double parking.
9. At the entrance or exit of a building or roadway or within a distance of five meters from the entrance of a roadway.
10. In between a safety zone and the roadway curb, or within a distance of 10 meters from either end of a safety zone.
11. In a congested area.
12. Within a distance of 15 meters before and three meters beyond a bus stop, and within a distance of three meters from a pillar-box, or in a manner that obstructs traffic. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• When parking and leaving a vehicle, the driver must stop the engine and apply the brake. While parking on a slope, the driver must turn the front wheels. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• The police may order the driver of an illegally parked vehicle to move on. If the driver is not on the scene or refuses to comply, the police may remove such vehicle, or lock the tires. (Imprisonment not exceeding one month, or fine not exceeding 2,000 baht, or both).
• If it is dark and a parked vehicle cannot be seen clearly from a distance of 150 meters, the driver must turn on parking lights. (Fine from 200 to 500 baht).
• At a railway crossing, the driver must stop the vehicle at a distance of at least five meters from the railway tracks if:
1. A sign or signal is displayed to indicate an approaching train.
2. The crossing bar is closed or a traffic officer displays a sign of an approaching train.
3. The driver hears the sound of an approaching train. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• At a railway crossing, where there is no signal or crossing bar to warn of an approaching train, the driver must stop the vehicle at no less than five meters from the railway tracks, to see if it is safe to pass. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
1. Pedestrian must stop and be on edge of the roadway or on the shoulder of the road.
2. Driver must stop and park at the edge of the roadway on his left side. If there is a car in the left lane, the driver must stop and park in the lane next to the bus lane. The driver must not stop or park at a junction.
3. Rider or animal keeper must control the animal to stop at the edge of the roadway but must not stop at the junction. In cases (2) and (3) the rider and animal keeper must act as quickly as possible, but with caution. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• Any person who drives a vehicle and causes damage to other persons or property, be it his fault or not, shall stop the vehicle and give appropriate assistance and immediately report to a competent officer on duty near the scene, and leave his full name, address and the vehicle registration number with the injured person.
• In the event the driver leaves the scene of the accident without reporting to a competent officer, it shall be presumed that he is the offender and the officer shall have the power to seize the vehicle until the case receives a final judgment or the driver is found.
If the owner of the vehicle does not present himself to the competent officer within 6 months from the day of the accident, it shall be regarded that the vehicle is connected with a criminal activity and it shall become the property of the state. (The sentence can be severe, whether imprisonment, fine, or both).
• A bicycle rider shall ride in the bicycle lane. If riding on roadway, road shoulder or bicycle lane, the rider must have:
1. A bell signal which is audible from a distance of 30 meters.
2. Good brakes which can immediately come to a full stop.
3. At least one front white light which is visibly seen from a distance of 15 meters at a level lower than the eyesight of drivers from opposite direction.
4. At least one red tail light which illuminates backward, or red material which reflects light. (Fine not exceeding 200 baht).
• A bicycle rider shall keep as close to the edge of the left side of roadway or bicycle lane as possible. When there is a bus lane on the left of the roadway, the bicycle rider shall ride close to the bus lane. (Fine not exceeding 200 baht).
• No cyclist shall ride:
1. Carelessly or recklessly in a way which may cause danger to persons or property.
2. Without control of handle bar.
3. Parallel with more than two bicycles except on a bicycle lane.
4. Without sitting properly on a normal saddle.
5. With a passenger, except for a three-wheeler or as deemed appropriate by a traffic officer.
6. Load or carry anything which may obstruct handling of bicycle or cause danger to persons or property.
7. Tow or be towed by another moving vehicle. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• Owner, driver or ticket collector of passenger vehicle shall not solicit for passengers noisily or in manner that is a nuisance to passengers, or round up, pull, hold back or force passengers or their belongings to board any passenger vehicle. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• Driver of passenger vehicle must stop and drop passenger at bus stop sign or other place agreed upon. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• Driver or ticket collector of passenger vehicle shall not carry a greater number of passengers than prescribed by regulations. In counting the number of passengers, it shall be regarded that two children not older than ten years of age are equal to one adult passenger. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• Driver or ticket collector of passenger vehicle shall not:
1. Smoke or talk while driving or collecting tickets.
2. Use impolite words, speak sarcastically, insult, abuse or act in an offensive manner to passengers or other persons. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• Driver of passenger vehicle must turn off engine and let all passengers out of vehicle while fueling inflammable fuel with temperature of 21C or lower. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• The driver of a taxi shall not refuse to accept employment to convey passengers except when such conveyance is likely to cause danger to himself or passengers. In the event of the driver of a taxi does not wish to be employed to convey passengers, a sign shall be displayed in a manner in accordance with the law. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• Owner or driver shall not solicit for passengers noisily or in manner that is a nuisance to passengers, or round up, pull, hold back or force passengers or their belongings to board any passenger vehicle. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• The driver of a taxi shall not charge a fare in excess of the amount registered on the taxi meter. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• The taxi driver shall not:
1. Smoke, play a radio or act in any manner that is a nuisance to passengers.
2. Extend a hand, arm or any part of the body out of the vehicle except in displaying turning signals.
3. Control the steering wheel with only one hand, except when necessary.
4. Use sound signals when entering the area of a hospital, office or educational institute; use horn sound signals to press other vehicles.
5. Overtake or dash in front of other vehicles haphazardly and dangerously.
6. Drive into another person’s house area.
7. Pick up a passenger in an area prescribed by the traffic officer with a traffic sign prohibiting picking up of passengers.
8. Use impolite words, speak sarcastically at, insult, abuse or act in such manner to the passengers or other persons. (Fine not exceeding 1,000 baht).
• The driver of a taxi shall convey passengers via the shortest route or a reasonable detour and shall deliver them at the place agreed upon. Driver of a taxi shall not abandon his passengers along the way in any circumstance. (Imprisonment not exceeding one month, or fine not exceeding 2,000, or both).
• The driver of a taxi shall dress in a uniform with an embroidered mark, according to regulations. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• A pedestrian shall walk on the footpath or road shoulder. If there is neither footpath nor road shoulder, he shall walk along the edge of the way on his right. (Fine not exceeding 200 baht).
• Pedestrian shall not cross a roadway except in the pedestrian crossing, unless there is no crossing for a distance of more than 100 meters from where pedestrian wishes to cross. (Fine not exceeding 200 baht).
• The rider of a motorcycle shall sit on the saddle provided for the motorcycle rider. The passenger shall ride in the rear seat provided for the passenger, or in the side-car. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• All motorcycle riders and passengers shall wear motorcycle helmets. This provision is not enforced for monks, novices, ascetics, persons of other religions which require wearing of a turban, or any persons under Ministerial Regulation.
(Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• No person shall buy or sell goods, distribute materials or solicit contributions in a roadway or in the center space of a divided roadway without sufficient cause or in a way that obstructs traffic. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• The number of passengers sitting in the front seat of a vehicle shall not exceed two. The driver must wear a seat belt and all passengers in the front seat should wear seat belts. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• A vehicle to be used in a procession or for advertising or entertainment along roadways shall obtain permission from the traffic police. (Fine not exceeding 500 baht).
• There shall be no vehicle race on the roadway except with written permission from the traffic police. There shall be no supporting of vehicle racing on the roadway except with written permission from the traffic police. (Imprisonment not exceeding 3 months or fine from 2,000 to 10,000 baht, or both).