A proposal to allow entertainment venues in tourist areas to stay open until 4 am is running into fierce opposition from anti-drunk driving activists amid worries that longer drinking hours would lead to more deaths on roads.
Sixty members of the Network for the Quality of Life assembled outside Government House on Friday to condemn the plan and demand the government reject it.
The rally was staged amid expectations that Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn would seek cabinet approval at the next weekly meeting on Tuesday.
Mr Phiphat has been spearheading a proposal to extend the operating hours of bars and other nightspots from 2am to 4am in locations popular among tourists. Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt has also expressed his support for the idea to energise the economy in the capital and promote tourism.
Potential locations for longer hours include Khao San Road in Bangkok, Patong in Phuket, Khao Lak in Phangnga and Ao Nang in Krabi province.
The activists pressed for Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul to slam the brakes on the idea, saying they fear more lives will be lost if local pubgoers get behind the wheel after venues close at 4am.
“We don’t have enough of those injured, disabled or dead today when nightspots close at 2am?” Jessada Yaemsabai, who leads the Network of People Affected by Drinking in Bangkok, asked rhetorically.
Mr Jessada uses a wheelchair as a result of an accident caused by a drunk driver.
“Adding two more hours might not be long. But how many people would die, be injured or become disabled in a year as a result of that?” he asked.
Statistics from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and other non-governmental organisations show that more than 20% of road accidents are caused by people driving under the influence of alcohol, with the damage costing society some 90 billion baht a year.
A rescue volunteer who joined the rally on Friday also made a plea for the government to shoot down the proposal by the tourism and sports minister, who works under Mr Anutin of Bhumjaithai.
“Please do not extend it,” he said. “More than half of the road accidents in Bangkok at night are from drivers under influence.”
The Bhumjaithai Party is also responsible for getting cannabis removed from a restricted drug list before any laws or regulations were in place to regulate its use. The resulting surge in recreational use has alarmed many doctors and others who are pushing for new restrictions.
Sompas Nelaphan, an adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, accepted the group’s protest letter on behalf of the government.