Editorial: Songkran deaths decline nationally, increase slightly in Chonburi

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Thailand’s death toll from accidents during this year’s Songkran holidays fell nearly 25 percent from a year ago, but rose slightly in Chonburi.

Eight of the 271 people reported killed in the April 11-17 period died in Chonburi Province, up two from last year. Half of those deaths occurred in the Pattaya area.

In all, Thailand saw 3,215 accidents with 3,476 injuries. Both were decreases of around 9 percent. Chonburi saw 87 accidents with 84 injures with Banglamung alone accounting for 33 accidents. Those statistics, however, do not include April 18-19, the official “wan lai” water festival days for Naklua and Pattaya and traditionally the busiest and most-celebrated of the holidays here.

Government officials were quick to congratulate themselves for the large reduction in fatalities, citing stricter penalties for drunk driving and a stepped-up public awareness campaign in lessening the annual road carnage.

Others, however, questioned the figures, noting that the government had claimed 299 people had died after just six days, then revised the final number down to 271. A newspaper in Phuket noted that at least one road fatality there was not included in the island’s total of eight deaths because the victim was not Thai and was unidentified when she was killed.

Despite government efforts, drunk driving remained the lead cause of accidents during the Thai New Year with the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation estimating that 38.8 percent were caused by drivers under the influence. Speeding came in second at nearly 21 percent.

More than 80 percent of all accidents involved motorbikes with nearly 33 percent of those killed or injured not wearing helmets.

The Thai government this year ratcheted up penalties for drunk driving, threatening fines up of to 20,000 baht and jail terms up to a year or both for those found driving drunk. Road signs were also installed along routes linking urban and rural areas, hoping to remind drivers headed home for the holidays to drive slowly and soberly. Checkpoints also checked drivers for booze and fatigue.

Still, Interior Ministry officials said more needs to be done before next year, urging local administrators to increase efforts to curtail alcohol use and better educate people.