Thais need to change shameful driving attitudes
A viral video seen earlier this week has sparked debates about Thais' lack of road discipline yet again.
Any foreigner visiting Thailand for the first time learns quickly that crossing the road here can be hazardous even when you try to be very careful.
Most cars zoom by, oblivious of people trying to get to the other side of the road. Pedestrian crossings just don't seem to slow them down.
In the video clip, a western man is seen sitting in the middle of the road on a clearly marked crossing in front of a passenger car.
Apparently, the foreigner is trying to cross one of the streets at the main complex of the Land Transport Department when a car speeds up to him.
The video description says he wasn't hurt but decided to make a point by sitting down in the road, blocking the car.
The car owner is seen getting down on her knees apologising to him with a wai. But the man would have none of it. He demanded to see police.
One of the onlookers at the scene remarked annoyingly that the owner had apologised. "What more do you want?" he said to the foreigner.
"It's the rule; follow the rule," the foreigner shouted, and looking at the car owner said: "If I'm walking [on the crossing], you must stop."
The video has been shared widely with hundreds of comments on one outlet. It may come as a surprise to some, but most commenters applauded the foreign man for standing his ground. They condemned Thai motorists' lack of respect for pedestrian crossings as shameful behaviour.
One of the countries often cited as a model of discipline and respect for the law is Japan. While Thailand is short on those admirable attitudes, we are about to have one thing in common with that country. We are soon to become an "extreme ageing society".
What this means is that there need to be structural changes -- an overhaul even -- to accommodate the increasing number of senior citizens.
Footpaths, for example, have to be repaved. They must be smoother and wider with fewer obstacles.
Pedestrian bridges need to be knocked down. These are ghastly structures that not only hog footpath space but are ugly eyesores and impossible for the elderly to climb.
Whether intended it or not, pedestrian bridges are a symbol of inequality, reflecting a mindset that put the convenience of car owners above people on foot.
When they were introduced years ago, those who refused to use them were often subject to ridicule or hostile comments. But as the years have passed, we have come to realise the dysfunctions that they have introduced in the environment.
It should now be clear to all that these structures are totally inappropriate for an ageing society.
These bridges are hazardous for healthy people, let alone elderly ones. Their construction is mostly substandard. Steps are steep and not uniform in height and width. Old people can often be seen holding on to the rail for dear life ascending or descending these steps.
Some people have told stories of their elderly relatives taking taxis just to go to the other side of the street.
And if you're in a wheelchair, you can just forget it.
Getting rid of these awful structures would save huge amounts of state budget and restore some aesthetics to the urban landscape. The big question is: How do we ensure people, especially the old and disabled, can cross the street safely?
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has in recent years begun to install traffic light at some crossings and plans to install more in the coming months.
But this has been done without any educational campaign to inform people of how to behave at such crossings and what penalty will be imposed for violations.
Motorists are confused as to where they should stop because no specific line has been drawn, unlike at intersections. Some motorists, but especially motorcyclists, just pretend they don't exist and simply drive through red lights.
Needless to say, there is practically no enforcement. And that's the point. As long as people think there's no one watching or they can get away with thumbing their noses at the law, they will do as they please.
In other words, it's a matter of attitudes and mindset. It doesn't matter if we have the best laid-out and engineered roadways with great signage and traffic lights. Mindless accidents will continue to happen because no one is working on changing people's ingrained way of thinking.
However, changing people's mindsets is one of the most difficult endeavours anywhere, let alone Thailand where people in power including the best educated in society are indifferent to such cultural flaws.
But that's where change has to occur first. Top officials and politicians are good at mouthing statistics and speeches to make people change their ways. Yet they do not believe what they themselves say, otherwise they would have put into action the necessary measures and seen them through.
How long has each of numerous police campaigns to enforce traffic discipline over the years lasted? I can say with certainty that none has lasted more than a few weeks.
Instilling road discipline is not just good for the elderly and the disabled. It will benefit society as a whole.
And I strongly believe that changes in people's traffic attitudes, if they come to pass, will eventually spread to other areas of the Thai mindset as well.
Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.