I try to shy away from contentious subjects in this column, as it was designed to be a lighthearted look at things motoring, but sometimes a lighthearted look may not be appropriate. For the nation’s road toll, this is one of those times.
What prompted me on this line of thought was the fact I was almost run over by songthaews running the red light on the zebra crossing on Second Road. For those who have not been to Pattaya recently, you will find that Beach Road now has pedestrian traffic lights every 200 meters. However, unfortunately all these do is to instill a false sense of security for those on foot.
Now when we look at the road toll, what were prime factors?
1. 80 percent of those killed are between 15-60 years
2. 75 percent of the people killed are male
3. 80 percent were riding motorcycles
4. 85 percent had no crash helmet
5. More than 50 percent of those injured had blood alcohol levels above the legal limit of 0.05. (Figures for blood alcohol levels of those killed are notoriously under-reported to avoid police/insurance problems.)
So what has been done? Even back in 2001 the BBC reported that the Thai government was considering cutting short the country’s main holiday to reduce the number of traffic accidents and discourage Thais from going abroad. That is like saying they will ban all motorcycles from the road over holiday weekends. Impractical and would be rejected by the population.
In December 2010, the Thaksin University in Songkla, published a treatise in their website, saying 12,000 Thai people per year are killed, or 33 per day and doubling during the Songkran festival and New Year’s Day. The item went on to say that, “There are three major causes of road accidents in Thailand that are driver’s behaviors, mechanical failure, and road conditions.”
This idea that mechanical failures are a prime factor has also been seized upon by governments, with a government spokesman saying that about 50,000 vocational students would be sent to checkpoints and car maintenance spots across the country to provide vehicle inspection services over the New Year break.
It does not need a Mensa IQ score to see that diverting attention to vehicle maintenance is not going to change the road toll, but driver behavior and alcohol are related and have a direct effect on the total number of people killed.
However, the greatest numbers should be attacked as the first priority. 80 percent of fatalities come from motorcycles. If it were possible to prevent these, you would have lowered the death toll by 80 percent, but that is Utopian and not possible. But – if you could get the 85 percent who were not wearing helmets to wear a helmet of a decent standard then you would produce an immediate lowering of the annual toll.
This is not Utopian. The legislation regarding the wearing of helmets is already law – if this was policed properly, and it is not difficult to spot a motorcycle rider not wearing a helmet, then you would see a dramatic fall in the numbers.
Of course, I have stated it needs helmets “of a decent standard”. Again, this is not difficult. Apply US Snell or the British Standard to all new helmets sold in Thailand. Give the shops six months to clear the old stock and thereafter only helmets meeting the standards are allowed to be sold. This is also not difficult to police – a walk down the supermarket shelves will soon show whether the helmets have the certification.
The salient figures are already there, the legislation is already there. The members of the Think Tank committees can finish their morning coffee and go home.
But is Thailand ready?