Enforce the helmet rule
Songkran, a joyful, traditional New Year festival that begins on April 13, has its own dark side. It’s renowned as a time of deadly road accidents — dubbed the “Seven Dangerous Days” — as a large number of people join in a mass exodus, heading to their home provinces and holiday destinations.
Typically, media outlets run road accident-related death tolls daily during this period.
Every year, the government feels the need to intensify road safety measures which include the setting up of checkpoints at major roads and accident-prone spots — the Royal Thai Police this week resumed setting up road checkpoints after a four-month suspension; the opening of more rest areas for fatigued motorists and the stepping up of surveillance against drunk drivers.
This year, the government said it would deploy 80,000 police officers along motorways countrywide on April 10-16. It aims to reduce road accidents and casualties by at least 5% to reduce the three-year average of 3,405 accidents and 378 deaths in 2017–2019.
It is doubtful whether the goal will be met because the casualty figures have never fallen substantially, with the exception of last year when the country was under a strict lockdown with tight controls on road travel to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the major reasons that road safety campaigns have failed is their broad scope, and a failure to address the problem at its core.
Road safety campaigns, including anti-drunk driving measures for festivals like Songkran and New Year, have primarily focused on large vehicles — public buses and private vehicles. But in reality, most of the road accidents in Thailand involve motorcycles. Motorcycles accounted for 79.25% of the total accidents during the Songkran festival in 2019.
Data released by the Interior Ministry showed that 74.4% of all road accidents involved motorcycles. Looking closer, recklessness was a major factor. Only about 53% of motorcyclists and 19% of pillion riders wore helmets.
According to the latest information from the ThaiHealth Foundation’s Social Mobilisation for Motorcycle Safety Project, an average of two motorcyclists die every hour. Furthermore, about 10 million motorcyclists in Thailand do not have driver’s licences. Given that there are 21.1 million motorcycles registered with the Land Transport Department, this means almost half of the population routinely breaks the law.
The biggest and most pertinent question is: How can the government let this happen? With such a large number of motorcyclists roaming the roads without driving licences and some without helmets, there must be something wrong with law enforcement.
There are also many motorcyclists still riding against traffic or on pavements, posing a risk not to themselves but also to the public at large.
So, the government needs to rethink its road safety campaign by targeting motorcycles.
There is no better time to start than this Songkran holiday. The government should launch a campaign about the importance of wearing a helmet — or even offer free helmets if need be. Motorcyclists who get injured — or disabled — in a crash are a burden to the state budget one way or the other.
It will require stringent efforts on the part of the police and transport officials to discourage those who violate the law. Without reducing the road accident rate among motorcyclists, every day including the upcoming Songkran period will be dangerous.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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