Unsafe roads hurt GDP

Unsafe roads hurt GDP

Drive slower to boost economy, report suggests

One way to improve Thailand's staggering economy might be to have motorists to drive more slowly, claims a new report.

A change in driving behaviour could improve the country's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the World Bank's "The High Toll of Traffic Injuries" research paper.

It estimates that Thailand's GDP, a key indicator of economic activity, will soar by 22.1% if the country can halve the number of road accidents over the next 29 years.

However, this approach ultimately may be a less practical way to bolster the economy compared to government spending in other areas and increased business investment, given the relative lack of success of recent road safety initiatives.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said that he was "unhappy" with the outcome of this year's "Seven Dangerous Days" campaign to reduce the number of road accidents during the Songkran festival after only a modest reduction in crashes, deaths and injuries, compared with figures from 2018.

This year's death toll was put at 348, a slight drop from 392 from the previous year, with speeding and drink-driving remaining the top two causes of tragic accidents.

Witthaya Chatbanchachai, chief of a provincial road safety working group, also shared Gen Prayut's concern when he compared the year-long traffic-related deaths stats between 2017 and 2018.

The numbers reduced a bit from 21,607 to 20,169 last year.

"More than 20,000 Thais lose their lives this way annually. That's a real problem in our society," Dr Witthaya said.

Worryingly, the majority of victims are youngsters aged between 15 and 24, who are supposed to go on and become the "breadwinners" in the future, he said.

But instead of seeing them go on to contribute towards economic growth, many who survive are left severely injured or permanently disabled, he added. A study shows 4.6% of those injured in road accidents remain handicapped for the rest of their life.

The Thailand Development Research Institute measured the impact road accidents had on the economy between 2011 and 2013 and found they dealt a financial blow worth over 545 million baht on average each year.

"That accounts for 6% of GDP," Dr Witthaya said.

He believes that, given other factors affecting the nation's prosperity, the long-term negative impact of such hazardous roads can only be "very severe" on both the economy and society.

According to officials, Thailand will become an aged society in the next two years with one in every five people 60 or older. That prospect is a grave concern as pensions and healthcare expenditure are likely to skyrocket.

Road accidents represent a significant obstacle to state efforts to drive the economy into a position to handle this burden.

Dr Witthaya agrees with the World Bank's suggestion of setting up a "lead agent" -- a sole agency responsible directly for planning, regulating and evaluating measures to deal with these preventable losses.

Thailand, which is currently ranked first among the 10 Asean nations in terms of road deaths per capita needs to put in a lot of hard work if it wants to lower this unpleasant ranking and reach its goal of keeping road death figures lower than 20 in 100,0000 people, he said.

"One reason is that Thai people often drive over the legal speed limit," Dr Witthaya said.

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