The Royal Thai Police and the Land Transport Department say a demerit point system will be introduced on Jan 9. The move is a bid to improve road safety in a country known to have the deadliest roads in Southeast Asia.
In May, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha reiterated the government's commitment to reduce traffic-related fatalities to 12 per 100,000 people by 2027 and eventually eliminate traffic fatalities by 2050 under Vision Zero, a model inspired by a similar programme in Sweden.
Known as the traffic point-cutting system, demerit points have been implemented in several jurisdictions around the world. Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States are examples of places where drivers are under the constant scrutiny of cameras and law enforcement officers.
But does this type of system actually encourage better driving behaviour? Well, it depends. A study from the United Arab Emirates found that a point-based penalty system had little to no impact on driving etiquette due to a lack of visible enforcement, in terms of speed cameras or police presence, a scenario that sounds awfully similar to Thailand where there are few fixed cameras in place.
At present, most cameras are placed at major intersections or highways in and around Bangkok.
Moreover, police enforcement is also lax with infrequent day and nighttime checkpoints in areas near entertainment zones or major roads, rather than also encompassing back roads or residential zones.
Besides potential enforcement issues, another factor to consider is whether the penalties will be harsh enough to deter people from bad driving.
Currently, the rules will assign each driver 12 points per year.
If a driver loses all their points in one year, their licence will be suspended for 90 days. If a driver has just six points left, they can attend a training course at the Land Transport office to restore their points.
Infractions such as speeding, riding without a helmet, using a mobile phone while driving or not stopping for pedestrians will warrant a one-point deduction. Two points will be deducted for running a red light or driving on the wrong side of the road.
If anyone's driven in Thailand, they will know how common it is for motorcyclists to jump a red light when there's no oncoming traffic or sometimes simply merge from the left.
It remains to be seen how the demerit system will be able to change this habit. With a lack of cameras at most intersections, motorists may simply learn over time where they have to behave and where they can continue business as usual.
For more serious traffic offences such as a hit and run, three demerit points will be deducted. But the most shocking rule of all is that just four demerit points will be docked for impaired driving.
In theory, this means drivers can drive drunk or under the influence of drugs four times per year before their licence is suspended.
This is simply unacceptable. Drunk driving puts lives at risk and many countries have strict punishments in place for the first offence such as instant licence suspension, heavy fines, potential jail time and/or alcohol rehab. These penalties are imposed in many countries to prevent repeat offenders.
The demerit system for drunk driving does not also line up with the 13th revision of the Land Traffic Act amendment which went into effect recently with harsh penalties or up to one year in prison and/or a fine of 5,000 baht to 20,000 baht.
When the demerit point system comes into play, the system should be inclusive of all drivers in the country. Currently, motorists are advised to check their scores on the Khub Dee mobile phone application or the e-Ticket PTM website by the Royal Thai Police.
However, both the site and the app are not English-friendly, which means drivers who are unable to read Thai will struggle to know where they stand or simply be unaware of when they face a penalty.
The demerit point system is a step in the right direction to make roads safer, but for it to be effective, not only does it need to put some fear in the public regarding enforcement, but also come with strict punishments. Hopefully, as the system is rolled out, adjustments can be made to make it more effective.