Opinion: Better road safety in Thailand begins and ends with better education

When I first became a driving instructor in the UK in 1989, I read a statement in an advanced driving magazine.

That statement is still relevant today – ‘’There is only one thing worse than a bad driver, and that is a bad driver that believes he is a good driver.’’ And why not? After all he or she has passed the driving test.

The driving test is, or at least should be a certificate of competence awarded by a government agency authorising the driver to drive on the roads.

However, there is much more to road safety than driver training. Much is made of speed when reporting road traffic incidents but speed is only a contributing factor. The real issue is hazard perception.

As hazard perception is neither trained or tested, the Thai driving test does not serve the purpose of intent and is therefore not fit for purpose. So, how do we measure success in road safety?

To do this we have to look at the countries that lead the world in road safety. These are known as the SUN countries; Sweden, UK and The Netherlands. The success is based upon the 5 E’s; Education, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation and Emergency.

Some countries do well in some or even most of these but the chemistry of combining and connecting all is beyond them. Thailand is weak in all Five.

Education: This isn’t just learning to drive, theory and practical, it begins when the child first travels in a car and is put in a suitable child seat with a proper restraint.

It is a near impossible task to ask a teenager to wear a seatbelt when he or she has sat in a car for 16 plus years watching parents driving without one.

A few years ago, I gave a lift to a teacher. He sat in the back of my car. I asked him to put his seatbelt in. He laughed and said ‘’it’s not law in this country.’’ I replied that it was law.

The laws of physics do not discriminate between countries, cultures, religions, age or gender. To illustrate and emphasise my point I said that if I’m driving at only 50km per hour and a drunk driver is driving at 80km ph, you will go through the windscreen at 120! He put his belt on and has done ever since.

Education also includes responsible advertising by motor manufacturers. Education comes in many forms.

Engineering: This can be used in many ways to control and influence traffic. Some examples are one-way systems, roundabouts, by-passes, filter lanes and pedestrian. One of the main weaknesses in Thailand is U-turns.

These are often situated in roads with higher speed limits. This requires judgement which is essentially a risk assessment, something that the government does not train people in. The risk could be reduced by having more roundabouts but this requires training.

Engineering also includes the vehicle which over the years has included airbags, rollover bars, crumple zones, anti-lock brakes and traction control. So engineering is partly dependent upon education.

Enforcement: Enforcement is dependent upon compliance and compliance is dependent upon education. The police take a lot of criticism for their perceived lack of enforcement. I won’t buy into corruption as the sole reason.

Road safety enforcement requires specialist training. The Thai police should be trained to a much higher level that the public as the UK police are, to set an example. This requires education. Everything begins with education.

Emergency: This is where life or death is decided. It is vital to get the injured bodies to the hospital within an hour, known as the golden hour.

The emergency services should be highly trained paramedics and advanced drivers. Many have problems getting the injured to hospitals because of other drivers and poor engineering.

Evaluation: All of the above must be continuously monitored and evaluated. This is the only way that government can determine that it is getting value for money.

If one of the 5 E’s is showing improvement then focus and budget can be directed to one of the weaker elements.

When consideration is given to the above one thinks of government and budgets. However, it is not about the cost of implementing such measure but the cost of not implementing them!

Much is made of the road traffic deaths in Thailand but not much is known about the hidden deaths relating to road traffic incidents. What are the hidden deaths?

Well, if you have a family member with heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems and other such life-threatening diseases they will find their appointments and operations delayed and put back until it becomes critical, so critical that an operation cannot save them. Road traffic injuries are selfish.

They always go to the front of the queue. Whilst your family member may see a nurse, doctor and or a surgeon, the crash victims will require the full and undivided attention of many nurses, doctors and surgeons. They cost the government more!

In terms of the cost to government, it isn’t solved by throwing money at it, we know this from our experience of Thai education. Neither is it the burden of poor or developing countries after all, the USA has, consistently, the worst road safety record of the developing world and it is predicted to get worse.

Conclusion: We are all stake holders. We know this by the way all Thais and foreigners here bought into the COVID rules and laws and helped the Kingdom get through this more successfully than many other countries.

However, I despair when I see people driving to get their vaccination wearing a mask but not wearing a crash helmet or a seat belt. Education.

Jamie Waddell has 32 years’ experience working at the highest levels of road safety. He has experience in working in over 30 countries and has lived in Thailand for 16 years.

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