Songkran exodus will again bring misery

Shocking results have been revealed in a joint research study conducted by the Thailand Accident Research Centre (TARC) at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and Thai Roads Foundation last year.

The crash of a bus on the Asian Highway in Phattalung killed one passenger and sent 13 others to the hospital. Excessive speed and the extra height of double-deck buses make them prone to accidents and rolling.

The study, which was partly funded by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, found that at least 53% of vans and at least 67% of buses drive over the speed limit on the highways and motorways in Thailand. Speed surveys of buses and vans were done quarterly in 2012 on four major national highways (Highway 1, 34, 35 and 338) and on one motorway (Motorway Highway 7).

Driving over the speed limit resulted in a higher risk of road crashes and more severe consequences. As the speed of a vehicle increases, the driver tends to have less control and the chances of taking evasive action diminishes as well. This greatly increases the risk of an accident.

The impact of a collision that a vehicle travelling at a higher speed incurs is much higher than the impact of collision that a vehicle travelling at a lower speed incurs - the severity of injury greatly increases as the impact of collision increases. This is why speeding results in more severe accidents.

The current trend of speeding by bus and van drivers is a serious threat to public safety on the road, especially as the Songkran holiday approaches.

Public transport is the common mode of intercity travel and 87% of the people who use public transport catch either buses or vans running on fixed and non-fixed routes.

Road accidents are considered a primary cause of death in Thailand and speeding has been identified as the key contributing factor in road accidents. What is more concerning is that road accidents here are most evident during the Songkran holiday season and the New Year holiday celebrations.

The Emergency Medical Institute of Thailand (Emit) states that the total number of people who died and were injured in road crashes over the Songkran holiday last year _ just a span of seven days (between April 11 and 17) _ was 27,881.

If the current trend of speeding by bus and van drivers continues, then travelling on buses and vans cannot be considered safe during the coming Songkran holiday. Since road transport is the only major way of getting to most places in Thailand, people will have no choice but to use the unsafe buses and vans to get to their destinations. Of course it is important to note that there are other reasons besides speeding for buses and vans to be considered unsafe.

To avoid frequent stopping at gas stations, many vans have an extra gas cylinder inside the vehicle. When fully loaded with passengers and gas, these vans reach a weight of about 3,500kg, which is way over the allowed weight limit of 2000kg. The extra weight makes the vans highly unstable and unsafe and increases the chance of an accident.

Double-deck buses are used as tour buses and also on fixed routes. Investigators in many accidents involving double-deck buses found that many of them exceeded the maximum height of 3.5 metres, with some towering up to 5m high. The extra height weakens the superstructure of a bus, making it unstable and prone to rolling over, which is why the sight of over-turned double-deck buses in Thailand is quite common.

Traffic authorities are planning to implement UNECE Regulation No.R66 which will make it mandatory for buses to go through a test of the strength of the superstructure.

Road accidents have a negative socio-economic impact on the victim, victim's family and the national economy. It may even push people into poverty. Tourism plays a pivotal role in the economy but unsafe road transport may drive away tourists, which will be felt in the pocket.

Those concerned must take action now to reduce the amount of road accidents. Since there are only a few days left before Songkran, nothing drastic can be done such as weighing all vans or testing the strength of all double-deck buses, but some preventive measures can still be taken to at least minimise some of the road accidents during this coming holiday season.

Among them are strictly enforcing the speed limit and other traffic laws and campaigning against drunk driving to ensure holidaymakers are able to reach their destinations safe and sound to enjoy the water festival with joy and happiness. Passengers should also take part by encouraging drivers to follow the traffic rules.

Kunnawee Kanitpong is associate professor of the Transportation Engineering Field of Study, School of Engineering and Technology, and manager of the Thailand Accident Research Centre, Asian Institute of Technology. Ridwan Quaium is research associate at the same facilities.

About the author

Writer: Kunnawee Kanitpong and Ridwan Quaium