Temperance groups and road safety advocates are urging the government to rethink its plan to allow bars, clubs and other entertainment venues to operate until 4am, saying authorities have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent alcohol-related accidents.
The calls come about a week after the Interior Ministry issued an announcement allowing bars and clubs in Bangkok and Phuket, Chon Buri, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui on Surat Thani, to open until 4am starting from Dec 15.
In Bangkok, the extended opening hours will be trialled along Silom Road, Royal City Avenue (RCA), Ratchadaphisek Road and venues within hotels, explained Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt recently.
"We will work with local authorities to ensure these venues don't admit anyone under the age of 18. We will ask the police to set up checkpoints to check for drunk-driving and drug use to prevent accidents," he said.
While the policy has received positive feedback from businesses, temperance advocates say the government need to rethink its plan to ensure the policy doesn't lead to a spike in road deaths.
At a discussion convened by Pheu Thai MP Khattiya Sawatdipol, Theera Watcharapranee, president of the Stop Drinking Network, said without adequate preparations, the policy will cause road deaths to soar instead of stimulating the economy.
Meanwhile, citing accident data from Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Bangkok and Phuket, Thanapong Jinvong, from the Road Safety Academic Centre, said drunk-driving was to blame for at least 2,118 deaths last year. Almost half of the accidents, or 1,004 cases, took place in Bangkok.
"Last year, fatal road accidents caused losses of around 6.5 billion baht across the four provinces alone. There are losses which can't be covered by the economic gains from the scheme," he said.
Udomsak Sae-Ngow from the Centre of Alcohol Studies (CAS) raised his concerns about impact of the longer operating hours on the incidence of violence, after a study in Norway found the longer the drinking hours, the higher the number of violent crimes.
Tairjing Siriphanich, from the Don't Drive Drunk Foundation (DDD), said drink-driving laws must be strictly enforced, as many drivers do not take drink-driving laws seriously.
Meanwhile, Jetsada Yaemsabai, DDD chairman, urged the police to set up more checkpoints in busy areas to boost people's safety when the longer hours kick in.