Muddled thinking reigns supreme?


Thailand’s road toll is the second worst in the world. That’s a fact.

I was almost run over by songthaews running the red light on a zebra crossing on Beach Road. For those who have not been to Pattaya for some time, you will find that Beach Road 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 as usual there will be ‘Think Tanks’ and measures will be instituted, which will, in theory, produce a drop in the road toll. After the minibus accidents, there will be calls for seat belts to be installed in all minibuses. Certainly a step in the right direction, but quite frankly, the effect on the total annual road toll will be miniscule at best, especially since there is no practical way of policing the wearing of the belts. Despite the well-publicized Bangkok accident, neither minibuses nor underage drivers are the prime cause.

The previous Interior Ministry told the provincial governors to put in place five measures – administration, law enforcement, traffic engineering, public relations and emergency medicine – to lower the government’s accident target by five percent from last New Year holiday, and by 10 percent for the year overall.

The Ministry urged agencies with integrated checkpoints to crack down on risky behavior and for local administrative organization-level checkpoints to oversee residents’ driving behavior. Provinces are to repair landslide-damaged roads and educate motorists; to supervise public-transport vehicles and drivers strictly; and to enforce the ban on drink-driving.

Now all that seems reasonably relevant and something as a starting point for all the committees which will be called up to propose the answers to the road toll problem.

However, the leg-work has been done already, even before the first coffee break for the Think Tank. The following statistics are readily available and a quick internet search will show that the road toll costs the country 2.1 percent of GDP. Now 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.)

A treatise from one of our universities five years ago opined that “There are three major causes of road accidents in Thailand: drivers’ behaviors, mechanical failure, and road conditions.”

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 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. I’ve done the sums for you.