Whether you are a permanent resident, long term visitor, or just on brief holiday to the Kingdom of Thailand, there’s a likely possibility that you have already, or at least are considering to wager with one of Thailand’s deadliest dealers. When the key turns the ignition in the Land of Smiles, the stakes are as high as they get; The non-repayable debt that you’re risking has high potential to snug you down in a deep hole, for an all expenses paid trip to early retirement. Are you ready to die?
Most likely, you answered no. Does that make you safe? The answer to this question all depends on your background respect and knowledge for Thailand’s network of roads that cover some 220,000 kilometers; More importantly, your attitude towards driving in general will play a big role in determining your fate out on the tar and pavement.
For those who have taken formal driving training and actually have recently obtained a valid international drivers license, your chances of staying alive on Thailand’s roads and highways are increased slightly, yet what you learned back at home may not always be applicable in a country, where an at least 20,000 souls die in motor vehicle accidents per annum.
According to official statistics (police), 12,858 people were killed in road crashes in 2005. However the real number might even be higher. According to documentation from the health sector, the real death toll could be 20,000 or more if victims who die after being removed from the crash scene are included.
Adapted from the Global Road Safety page on Thailand
By making the decision to drive, or even be a passenger for that matter, you are taking a high risk to join these numbers. Failing to realize this reality puts you at even higher risk.
No joke, hundreds out of the deaths mentioned above involve foreign nationals–who were over-confident in their chances and abilities, yet took the laws and roads lightly, failing to take all the necessary precautions as to preserve their life–in fact, not different than their Thai compatriots who most likely weren’t planning to die the last time they started up the engine.
To get a clearer reality, just take a look at these bloody and fatal articles involving both Thai and foreigners, complete with on-the-scene pictures. The following examples are all fatal, recent, and happened in Chonburi–reckonably the most, but not the only traffic-dangerous province of Thailand.
Perhaps such pictures are only images, stories are only tales, and statistics are just numbers to you, and the reality of the situation couldn’t possibly hit home until it happens to someone you knew, or maybe only when your own guts are spread out across the pavement is when you’d take the driving experience serious. Unfortunately by than, an ‘I told you so.’ would be far too late.
If you are like the author, you’re hard headed, and need to learn things yourself. Well, this is one lesson you ought to take another’s word for instead. Some of us have been fortunate to learn the hard way, but that doesn’t mean you will be as fortunate to survive.
The first bike the author owned and learned the roads was back in 2002, on a fifth hand Suzuki Akira 115 cc. The author, like most rookie visitors to Thailand, had no real previous experience on a motorcycle other than a weekend rental excursion on Samed island on a previous holiday. Back in those days, his American drivers license usually sufficed for traffic cops’ routine checks, even though it wasn’t motorbike specific. Fortunately today, Thai laws have started to crack down on enforcing the laws in place to have valid Thai license, or at the least a legit international license.
Unfortunately, no matter what measures, society and authorities take to cut down on traffic accidents and fatalities, there will still be motorists dropping like flies, for the biggest danger is not the roads, it’s not the fast engines and big wheels, nor even the alcohol and stimulants involved, but it’s the drivers themselves who put them self and others in vulnerable, deadly situations.
The author can only thank his stars that his life wasn’t ended when he was illegally, thus recklessly driving as an ESL teacher in Phetchaburi in 2002 and 2003. One of his friends, another ESL teacher from Canada, Dan Storey wasn’t so lucky when he t-boned a car at a late night intersection in Cha Ahm district, January 15, 2002. Dan suffered a painful and slow death at the hospital (though he was long unconscious since impact), implanting a seed of reality in the author and all else who were acquainted, involved, and affected.
Don’t be ignorant, and certainly don’t fear the roads, for this post wasn’t written to scare you into hiding, but to inform and prepare you for what will keep you alive–enjoying the drive and scenery, and confident that you will be able to do so for a long life to come. Learn how to drive and survive Thai roads now.
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