When zebra crossings become death traps
A female doctor's death on a zebra crossing on Friday is no doubt a heartbreaking tragedy. But will it make a difference to the country's notorious killer roads? That remains highly doubtful.
Dr Waraluck Supawatjariyakul, an ophthalmologist at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Medicine, was only steps away from reaching the end of the pedestrian crossing when a speeding high-powered bike hit her.
The impact was so hard she was immediately thrown more than ten metres. She was seriously injured and later pronounced dead at Rajavithi Hospital.
It is appalling enough that the accident occurred on a zebra crossing -- what are meant to be safe zones on the road and an area where the doctor as a pedestrian should have been lawfully protected.
But the outrage did not stop there. The speeding Ducati Monster was driven by a cop.
Yes, it was a police officer who should have known and respected the law who was charged with reckless driving killing the doctor.
Dr Waraluck's death has sparked an uproar, with the hashtags #MorKratai and #WhatAreCopsFor trending on Twitter.
The fatal accident is not just sad and horrible but it seems to have brought into focus many wrong things in society -- deep-seated ills that people have to put up with which keep showing their ugly faces again and again.
The doctor's death reminds people that life on the roads can be cheap while justice is harder to come by. You could be a law-abiding citizen who uses a crosswalk and still get killed by a speeding cop who fails to stop at a zebra crossing.
The bike driver Pol L/Cpl Norawich Buadok also faces six other charges including failure to display a licence plate, pay an annual tax for his fancy big bike, install rearview mirrors and procure an insurance policy.
Yes, he is a police officer who is supposed to enforce the law.
Even though the speeding cop reportedly turned himself in and confessed to all charges, people questioned why the doctor's friends had to take to social media to ask for dashcam or CCTV footage that could expose the incident themselves?
The police yesterday defended its alleged delay in gathering evidence saying the City Hall's CCTV footage was not clear enough so it had to ask for more from the Bhumirajanagarindra Kidney Institute Hospital where the incident took place.
The coordination took time, the police said.
Whether the reason is valid or not, the case seems to have reinforced the perception that when you are an ordinary citizen, you have to take on the burden of finding justice for yourself even when you are clearly the victim.
The "system", whether it includes public CCTV records or complicated legal procedures, is usually not on your side.
It could be even more so when you are going up against the authorities, or police officers in this case.
The death of Dr Waraluck has in no doubt highlighted the need to enforce the law regarding zebra crossings more stringently.
The police have said they have arrested more than 1,700 motorists who failed to stop at crosswalks so far this year.
However, people who have ever had to rely on a zebra crossing would realise that instead of being a safe path it could easily be qualified as a death trap.
The danger is partly due to bad driving habits and partly due to poor and often inconsistent road design.
For example, the law forbids motorists to overtake other vehicles within 30 metres before the crossing but how would they know there is one ahead of them?
While some zebra crossings are equipped with corresponding traffic lights, others are not. This could cause motorists to find it hard to know what to expect on the road.
Overpasses are supposed to offer a safer way to cross the street but in many cases, they can be inconvenient, even dangerous due to hanging wires and uneven steps that some of them have.
In the end, the tragic death of Dr Waraluck was made more poignant because it occurred to a promising young woman who dutifully followed the law while the cop who took her life apparently did not.
What should not be overlooked, however, is about 60 people whose plight may not have made such big news also die in road accidents each day, according to the World Health Organization.
Thailand's roads are the deadliest in Southeast Asia and among the worst in the world, that is a well-known fact. About 20,000 people die in road accidents each year.
The death of Dr Waraluck breaks our hearts because it could have been prevented just like the other 20,000 fatalities. It is also exceedingly sad to realise that hers is probably not the last.
Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.