How long before seat belt rule is flouted?

How long before seat belt rule is flouted?

Come April 5 -- the beginning of the Ten Dangerous Days of the Songkran festival -- all drivers of private cars and public transport and their occupants will have to fasten their seat belts. The only exceptions are tuk-tuk and song thaew drivers, whose passengers are not required to buckle up. Violators will face a fine of 500 baht.

That is the impromptu order coming from Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, head of the National Council for Peace and Order, brandishing his big stick called Section 44 of the interim constitution.

The aim of this order, No 14/2560, which was announced on March 21 and timed to come into effect before Songkran, is to reduce the death toll and injuries caused by road accidents during the upcoming Songkran festival. I suspect the powers-that-be may have lost trust in the traditional publicity campaign normally launched before the festival by various agencies such as the Royal Thai Police Office and the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

The order, when it was announced on March 21, caused a lot of public confusion, triggering a flood of dissenting comments on social media, especially among pickup truck drivers wondering what to do with the passengers they carry in the back of their vehicles.

Unlike in western countries where pickup trucks are not used to carry passengers in the back, in this country and various other developing and under-developed countries, pickup trucks are multi-purpose vehicles used to carry everything from human beings to dead bodies and everything else imaginable. In war-torn African and Middle Eastern countries, they are widely used as fighting vehicles.

The sight of men, women and children packed like sardines in the back of a pickup is commonplace here. And it is not surprising that every time there is a crash involving such vehicles, there is carnage, with the victims being mostly poor or migrant workers from Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar.

Clarifying the gist of Order No. 14/2560, government spokesman Lt-Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said besides mandatory seat belts for drivers and passengers actually inside the vehicle, passengers are not allowed to sit in the luggage tray.

As far as road safety and saving lives are concerned, the ban on pickups carrying people in the back is sensible and will be effective.

But sensibility may go against the die-hard habits of many owners of pickup trucks who reject the ban for at least one simple reason, that the move came so unexpectedly that they were not given enough time to make adjustments.

Seat belts do save lives. But they don't stop or help reduce road accidents which, in this country, are mostly blamed on drunk driving, speeding and breaches of traffic regulations.

One major cause which is often overlooked or which people prefer not to mention is lax enforcement of the law by the authorities concerned, particularly police and officials of the Department of Land Transport (DLT).

For instance, passenger vans are supposed to have 13 seats for 13 passengers, but most of them have seats for up to 20, and passengers are squashed inside. Yet they are able to operate as normal, with impunity, unnoticed by inspectors from the department...if you believe that.

Crash helmets are mandatory for motorcyclists and pillion riders. But bikers without crash helmets are seen every day on Bangkok streets, sometimes right in front of traffic policemen who don't raise an eyebrow. Ten-wheel trucks piled high with sugarcane twice the height of the average person ply rural roads with impunity during the sugar milling season.

One may wonder where all the highway policemen have gone?

Besides seat belts, one controversial new measure recently introduced is for the department to reject annual road tax payments by motorists who refuse to pay traffic fines issued by the police.

Paying road tax is mandatory for a motorist to be able to drive a car without getting arrested. I wonder, can DLT officials legally reject tax from a motorist who refuses to pay a traffic ticket?

I hope there will be a case taken to court to set a precedent on whether the new measure to teach law-breaking motorists a lesson is legal or not?

The disrespecting of traffic laws and regulations by motorists and motorcyclists and the lax enforcement of laws and regulations by the police and DLT officials are so deeply-entrenched in society that I doubt the magic wand of Section 44 will help.

Let's wait and see how long the police can keep up the enforcement of the seat belt law before complacency sets in and they just let it be.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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