Dangerous Driving in Thailand

In Global Perspectives, Maps101 by mapsbecky

The World Health Organization says that Thailand is the second most dangerous place to drive in the world. Pictured above, a traffic jam in Thailand's capital, Bangkok.

The World Health Organization says that Thailand is the second most dangerous place to drive in the world. Pictured above is a traffic jam in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.

A recent report says that the Asian country of Thailand is one of the most dangerous places to drive in the world. During the recent New Years holiday, 478 people were killed in accidents from December 29 to January 3, an increase of 26 percent over the same period the year before. In one accident alone, 25 people in an overcrowded van lost their lives after their driver lost control and plowed into oncoming traffic on Route 344 in Thailand’s Chon Buri province.

The increase of traffic accidents over the holiday is nothing new. Thai roads are notoriously dangerous around the New Year and during spring festivals. The problem is so severe that the Thai media has nicknamed these two periods “The Seven Deadly Days.” Even though the Thai government has been working to improve traffic safety, they have met with little success. Every day, about 66 people are killed on Thai roads. Now, Thai citizens want their government to take more effective measures to make sure that driving is safe.

Worst Countries to Drive in

According to a 2015 World Health Organization report, Thailand is the world’s second most dangerous country in which to drive. For every 100,000 people, there are 36 traffic deaths. In comparison, the United States has about 11 traffic deaths annually per 100,000 people.

Number one on the list is the African country of Libya, which has about 73 traffic deaths per 100,000 people. However, critics point out that Libya’s roads and infrastructure have been damaged by civil war and internal disorder since 2014. In comparison, Thailand is a peaceful country. Of its 462,133 roads, almost all are paved. Thailand also has many modern multi-lane highways.

Why Are Thai Roads Dangerous?

Authorities say that some of the main reasons for dangerous roads are careless driving, an absence of government inspection of  vehicles, and a lack of vehicle maintenance by owners. Some passenger vehicles have also been modified by their owners to add more passenger seats, an addition that makes them less safe.

Fatalities increase in the two Seven Deadly Days periods. One is the New Year week, while the other is in April during Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year. During each holiday, millions of people travel from large cities like Bangkok to their home provinces in the country to visit their families. The busy roads mean more car crashes.

Statistics show that about 60 percent of all accidents during the Seven Deadly Days occurred on straight stretches of highway, where drivers were more likely to speed. This year, about 60,000 people were arrested for drunk driving, which authorities estimate were to blame for about 37 percent of the recent New Year crashes. Police also seized 4,000 vehicles, about 75 percent of which were motorcycles. In fact, about 82 percent of all crashes included motorcycle drivers.

Thai authorities say that overcrowded passenger vans like the one above contribute to the high number of traffic fatalities.

Thai authorities say that overcrowded passenger vans like the one above help contribute to the high number of traffic fatalities.

Taking Action

In 2011, aware of a growing traffic crisis, the Thai government started a ten-year program called the Decade of Action on Road Safety. The next year, the government set a goal of 100 percent use of helmets on motorcycles. Then in 2015, it set a target of reducing road deaths by 80 percent. Even with these efforts, however, the number of deaths continues to rise.

For one thing, Thai roads are very busy. The number of vehicles on Thai roads has increased 30 percent over only the past three years.

Another major danger on Thai highways is speeding drivers. During a recent patrol on a highway outside of Bangkok, police officer Kanthachat Nua-on saw so many speeders that he didn’t bother to issue most of them tickets. “If we strictly follow what the law says,” the police officer admitted, “and issue a ticket for people driving over the speed limit, then we will end up booking everyone.”

Still, critics say that even when drivers are ticketed, the fines are too small to be a deterrent. Also, more than half of the people who receive tickets never pay them, and the government rarely enforces payment.

Others say that people from wealthy and influential families receive lenient treatment. In 2012, the grandson of a respected business leader killed a police officer while driving. Although he was charged with the crime, he never showed up in court. In another case, a driver from an influential family killed nine people. The driver was ordered to do community service. Two years later, the driver still had not performed this service.

Liviu Vedrasco, who works on road safety for the World Health Organization, says that the best way to reduce the death toll is to focus on motorcycles, since they account for about 80 percent of traffic deaths. One solution is to create motorcycle-only lanes.

“If you cannot reduce the number of motorbikes, the next best thing is separating them,” Vedrasco said. “Make a dedicated lane; maybe not a hundred percent of roads in Thailand, but aim to increase the percentage of roads with separated traffic – this will definitely have a tremendous impact.”

Wimol Modpai, whose daughter was killed in the van accident, hoped the government would continue to focus on traffic safety .”I wish the government would do more,” she said. “After the accident people got excited for a while, but once the fuss dies down, everything will go back to the way it was before.”

Additional Resources

Read more about Thailand’s road safety problems at the BBC and the Bangkok Post.

See the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety.

Watch a live streaming video feed from Bangkok, Thailand, at EarthCam.

Images and Sources

Bangkok Traffic Photo: Gemma Longman.
Bangkok Traffic Photo License: Creative Commons 2.0.

Passenger Van Photo: Honey Kochphon Onshawee.
Passenger Van Photo License: Public Domain.