Opinion: Needless road deaths don’t need to keep happening

It’s no secret that Thailand has some of the world’s deadliest roads. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed the kingdom as the most dangerous place in Asia for pedestrian-related road accidents.

It’s truly an unenviable position.

The report shows Thailand’s road traffic accidents killed more than 22,000 people that year, which equates to about 60 people dying on the road each day.

In all parts of Thailand, especially in Bangkok, pedestrian crossing is an unpleasant experience.

Footpaths are narrow, drivers show a total lack of concern for people crossing. And then when people get hit, the accidents often go unsolved. The main problem is that nobody stops for them.

It’s not entirely surprising why we’re ranked so high when it comes to road deaths. Police don’t enforce road rules – there’s no deterring police culture that truly forces the drivers to behave on the roads.

Don’t get me started on other road safety parameters. It’s widely known that we have a low rate of helmet wearing, which is tentatively improving, thankfully. However it’s also common to jump behind the wheel of a car without a driving license in Thailand. But alas, nothing a small fine can’t fix, right? At least that’s what our boys in brown believe. 

But death is the infinite cost of this approach to road safety. Until we begin to take road safety seriously,  more deaths will needlessly continue, and families will be devastated because of irresponsible motorists.

Take for example, Dr. Waraluck “Kratai” Supawatjariyakul. She was a gifted ophthalmologist who was in the top 5 percentile of all ophthalmologists in the country specializing in uveitis and retina knowledge.

Her death is a tremendous loss.

Her case is another sad example of how often the good die young in this country, while the corrupt continue to get away with their crimes with impunity. She was a model citizen. Then one reckless cop killed her.

The police officer at fault, Norawit Buadok, is facing multiple charges, including reckless driving, causing death, driving without a license plate, and other five charges. But imagine if he was as rich as Vorayuth Yoovidhya, a Red Bull heir, one of Thailand’s biggest billionaire businesses, who crashed his Ferrari into a policeman. The heir now got away with the killing and is believed to be in Austria.

It’s true, motorists will be fined up to 1,000 baht for illegally driving through road crossings. But police also make money from handing out “fines” from motorists who break the law. We’re all very familiar with the gotcha police checkpoints that suddenly appear at the end of the month.  So the law is not only badly enforced, but police are financially incentivized to keep our roads unsafe.

It’s actually terrifying that the officers who should be upholding the law are in reality, breaking it by taking bribes. They are almost always above the law. Officer Norawit, the man who took Dr. Kratai’s life was released without bail after reporting at the police station, and is facing seven counts. Hopefully justice will be served in this case.

What matters is that the rate of road deaths remains Thailand’s big problem. None of us can deny we have seen accidents like this throughout our life. Yet, it continues.

But we also have a responsibility to respect the road.

Motorists always ignore the zebra crossings, even when pedestrians are clearly trying to cross. You can stand at a zebra crossing for ten minutes and the motorists still won’t stop for you. Instead, they will speed up at the last minute to push through the last second of the green light, just like what occurred a few days ago with Kratai.

So, how many more lives do we need to lose before citizens begin to drive more safely, or for police to enforce the law strictly?

In most countries, motorists stop for pedestrians at crossings. It’s because these cultures strictly enforce road safety laws, giving out harsh penalties, even felony convictions for reckless drivers. This is not something we should have to call for in Thailand. We live in modern society, do we not? Road safety should be one of the basic standards we enjoy in a developed nation.

But until we start taking more responsibility for how we operate on the roads, and the police begin to think differently about our road rules, then more needless deaths will persist.

Hopefully Kratai’s case will be a wake-up call for everyone. This doesn’t need to keep happening.

Photo via ร่วมด้วยฐานปฏิบัติการซีบีห้วยขวาง on Facebook

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