End carnage on our roads

A recent global study has revealed another world record was achieved by Thailand last year. The nation has the worst traffic safety record of any major country in the world.

It is fitting the report was issued by the World Health Organisation. For certain, there is something sick about the nation's approach to road safety _ or the lack thereof.

The WHO's new edition of the Global Status Report on Road Safety has a lot of jaw-dropping information.

But one statistic sticks out. Thailand last year had 26,312 traffic deaths on highways, roads and urban streets. That works out at 38.1 deaths per 100,000 people. It's the worst in the world among major countries, and demands serious attention.

Statistics can be misleading, but this one is not. No matter which way you shuffle the numbers, Thailand is the record-setter. India, with 18 times the Thai population, has just nine times the road fatalities. Brazil has three times as many people as Thailand (and the worst urban congestion), but just over half the highway toll.

So far as our region is concerned, the WHO had to make a special, enlarged bar chart to show the Thai highway deaths in relation to the next worst, Indonesia, at 17.7 per 100,000 people, and Myanmar, with 15.

Within the WHO report, there are telling facts. Of road deaths in Thailand, an astounding 74% involve drivers or passengers on two- or three-wheeled vehicles. The next biggest group of those killed last year, 13%, were in cars and pickup trucks.

Contrary to perception and media reports, fewer than 1% of road fatalities last year involved buses or heavy goods vehicles.

Twice a year, at New Year and Songkran, authorities order clampdowns on poor driving and drink-driving.

But as the WHO report makes clear, the country lacks two mandatory tools to bring down the bloody highway toll: a proper system of laws, and the will to enforce them.

The World Health Organisation's global survey even points out where to start.

Motorcycles are not just the most dangerous motorised vehicles in the country, but their drivers are the least trained and their conduct the least policed. The mechanical instability of this small, light vehicle leaves the driver and passengers unsecured and exposed.

By a margin of 10 to 1 over cars and pickups, lack of driver experience and proper licensing turns motorcycles into the nation's most deadly vehicle.

Other steps will be necessary to reduce Thailand's record-setting highway death toll. But the first badly needed action can be summed up in three words: Education, licensing and enforcement.

All three must work together. The WHO report says Thailand already has the basic network of laws that are required to turn the roads from the deadly and bloody anarchy they represent now into a dependable and safe transportation system.

Motorised transport is dangerous. From the motorcycle up to the huge, articulated lorry, death is only seconds away at any given time. A reliable road network must rely upon those who use it. The WHO award of "most dangerous roads in the world" should be a sobering one. We must find the will to take dangerous drivers off the roads and make our highways and streets safe for all.