Don't only blame drivers for road tragedies
Every fatal accident is a tragedy and all serious accidents carry heavy human and financial costs.
Every day many such accidents occur on Thai roads. The high fatality rate has earned Thailand the dubious reputation as the country with the second most deadly roads in the world.
This has been going on for years and years, and despite public and private efforts to remedy the situation accidents continue to mount.
So far this year, more than 1,000 people on average have lost their lives each month. Between Nov 1-15, 665 people were killed. That's about 44 deaths a day. Most deaths occurred on Nov 6 when 62 people died.
It is likely we could soon surpass even these statistics.
It should be noted that the numbers I cite are of people who died at the scene of accidents. They do not include those with serious injuries who might have perished in hospital or on the way there.
The statistics, however, fail to reveal the magnitude of human suffering, grief and loss.
Take an accident in Ayutthaya on Nov 8 when a van carrying a group of Japanese tourists slammed into the back of a 10-wheel truck. Five people died. Among them were a surgeon from Kyoto and a hospital director from Osaka.
Needless to say, when alive they provided valuable services to mankind. Now, no more.
But the enormity of the losses is not always determined by the social or economic status of the victims. The loss of a spouse or a child can have an equally devastating impact.
Last Wednesday, a double-decker coach carrying more than 50 young students and their teachers hit a pickup truck that was waiting to make a right turn at a T-junction.
The accident occurred on a stretch of highway in Dan Khun Thot district of Nakhon Ratchasima that was recently expanded from two to four lanes. There are no traffic lights at the junction. The section of road on which the coach was travelling was downhill, so the momentum of the speeding vehicle increased the gravity.
Apparently, the front of the pickup truck poked too far into the oncoming lane.
The impact when the coach hit the truck sent the double decker careening over the median, cutting across the opposite lane and ending up in a ditch.
A young girl, a teacher and the coach driver died at the scene. About 50 other passengers suffered injuries, some serious.
The only good thing that can be said is that when the coach shot across the other lane, there was no oncoming traffic. Otherwise, greater loss of life would have resulted.
On the coach with the young girl were her mother and older brother, both injured seriously enough to put them in intensive care.
The girl's father told journalists that he had a phone conversation with his daughter less than an hour before the crash. He said he would not tell his wife and son of the girl's death until they were out of danger.
There are no words to describe the grief of a man who has suddenly lost a child with two loved ones still hanging on by a thread.
Numerous studies have pointed to speed and alcohol consumption as the main causes of accidents in Thailand. A few mention lack of law enforcement and road conditions. And everybody knows that Thai drivers in general have bad driving habits. So basically most of the blame lies with the drivers.
However, those who run this country, who make the rules and enforce the laws, and who are responsible for ensuring sound roads and safe practices have managed to avoid any blame.
But they shouldn't. They must be called to account for their failures to tackle road safety issues. They should not be allowed to continue to point their fingers at other people and other causes and to launch meaningless and expensive traffic safety campaigns year after year.
Years of driving in this country have given me doubts about the competence of officials in charge of road safety. They may have the technical knowledge from reading books and studying abroad. But can they apply that knowledge to suit local conditions? Are they actively promoting road safety? Ultimately, do they really care about safe practices?
Why, for example, do they allow U-turns in the middle of heavily travelled highways, such as Highways 1 and 2, forcing traffic in the fast lanes to slow down suddenly, come to a complete stop or switch to slower lanes, any of which could cause serious accidents?
It annoys me enormously when sometimes the lane I am driving along suddenly disappears or merges with another lane without warning.
Road construction or repair sites are dangerous areas because certain lanes must be closed and often there is little warning and cars have to merge or stop suddenly.
After sections of a highway are resurfaced with asphalt, road workers almost always fail to draw dividing lines until much later, so motorists are left to imagine the proper lanes. At night, you feel like you are driving blind.
I could go on with my observations, but you get my drift.
The girl on that coach would not have died if traffic lights and warning signs were there. Many accidents could be avoided if road safety officials pay attention to details when building or repairing roads.
Top officials should start taking the matter seriously instead of simply paying lip service.
Wasant Techawongtham is a former news editor, Bangkok Post.
Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.