James Williams, a 76 year old American expat, is delighted with his Chinese-made electric three-wheeler. “I used to drive a Honda motorbike,” he says, “but I find the trike easier to drive and safer on the Pattaya roads.” There are now estimated to be at least 200 trikes in the city, used mainly by farang seniors to do their shopping, visit friends and make life simpler in the travel sense.
Born in Texas and brought up in Dallas, James joined the American armed services during the Vietnam War. He joined the military in 1966 and spent his working life serving as a soldier and a civilian in the armed services, including overseas postings in Asia.
He first visited Thailand on holiday whilst stationed in South Korea and harks back to the days when Pattaya was little more than a fishing village. “As a golfer, I found it amazing that the cost of a single round in in South Korea equated to a full week’s playing over here.” Following the death of his American wife, James moved to Thailand in 2012, initially to Ubon Ratchathani and then to Jomtien.
Fully covered by US government health insurance, James is one of those favoured expats who does not need to worry about visiting Thai hospitals from the financial point of view. “It’s a big bonus for a retiree,” he acknowledges, “but I also enjoy the climate here and the opportunity to meet new people all the time.” He drives his three-wheeler locally most days, but only to up 15 mph, and never at night. He maintains an up-to-date Thai driving licence, even though not strictly necessary for the trike.
So what of the law? The 1979 Vehicles Act is silent about electric vehicles such as this which is less than 50cc/500W. The Land Transportation Department confirms that formal registration is neither required nor available. It follows that insurance is not obtainable, so any damage to the vehicle or theft or accident injury is the sole responsibility of the driver. Driving on motorways is prohibited.
A Pattaya police source told Pattaya Mail, “We are aware of the growth of the small electric cars in the city and it would be an offence to handle one whilst drunk or under the influence of drugs or medication. Our officers on patrol do sometimes stop a driver just to check that he or she is in good health, but we have not experienced serious problems with this type of vehicle as the owners are avoiding dangerous practices such as night driving.”