Driving In Thailand
Driving the 1200kms from Rayong to Hat Ya in the south I guarantee that I will see dogs bloated and dead by the side of the road after being hit by trucks, buses, cars or motorcycles. The latter drivers usually end up as dead as the animal they hit because they are not obeying the law by not wearing a safety helmet. Pillion passengers usually suffer the same fate as the driver. On one particular journey south I counted from the time I left until I returned home a total of ten dogs and two cats dead or dying on the road. Looks like dogs and cats don’t count for much on Thai highways. On a trip at the beginning of the Songkran holiday this year I witnessed the aftermath of nine vehicle accidents along the way which involved eighteen cars but I did not see any evidence of the much vaunted Highway Police presence on the road at any time during the journey. The Thai fascination for blood and guts is something I have a hard time coming to grips with. They will stop anywhere on the road to have a look ignoring the fact that they are causing a serious hazard and possibly another accident. Thais at the wheel have little or no regard for other road users and do not consider anyone else but themselves. Try overtaking a Thai driving a BMW or Merc driving your beat-up pickup or down market saloon car. This is a serious face loss for the BMW or Merc driver and must be avenged at all costs. The higher up the social pecking order they are the greater the immunity from the police. They will happily drive against the traffic flow, drive while drunk, ignore all speed limits, will not usually wear seat belts except in Bangkok when the police are around and overtake on blind corners. Most Thais in the North, Central or Southern Thailand are very consistent in that they exhibit stupid behaviors when driving by ignoring the road traffic laws of the land. Lawless death wish behavior on the roads in Thailand kills – Thais and Farang alike!
Are they any different? In the main I would say the long term farang resident of Thailand is a responsible driver who is properly trained in driving techniques and respects the traffic laws of Thailand. On the other hand we have some visitors / tourists coming to Thailand who will hire high powered motorcycles or jeeps with little understanding of the driving habits here and proceed to ignore Thai traffic laws. All bets are off at this stage. The consequences of their actions are unfortunately sad as other people are seriously injured or die in road accidents resulting in many of these tourists and drivers being shipped back home to their families in wooden overcoats. If you think drivers are bad in Thailand you should try driving in Korea. I work outside of Thailand and was recently approached by the company’s American personnel on the job to arrange a series of Defensive Driving Courses as they had a major concern about driving in Korea. A few days later I was on a business trip to the USA and had an opportunity to observe the standard of driving there first hand. When I returned to the site I informed our American staff that in my opinion they fitted in with the Koreans as their driving standards were much the same as in the parts of America I was in so there was little point in arranging training courses for them. My conclusion is that the standard of driving in both countries is abysmal. Sound your horn at a driver in some parts of the US and you could be on the receiving end of a few well aimed pieces of lead projectiles. We are sometimes very quick to chide and condemn the standards of driving in Thailand and other countries but fail to take notice that drivers in our own counties might just be as guilty of bad driving habits and ignoring the traffic laws as the rest of the world. It is all a question of attitude.
The following is a “reference” to Thai road rules. I have no idea who wrote it or indeed where I picked it up so if anyone reading it is the author please let me know so you can be credited with the composition. While it has its fun side I am sure that some long term residents will have experienced or at least witnessed most of its content.
RULES OF THE ROAD IN THAILAND
In order to successfully drive a motor vehicle in Thailand you must understand the transportation gestalt in an entirely different way. Definitions which you once thought were above definition will be immediately re-defined.
Please note the following:
The road includes not only the paved portion of the highway, but also what we might call the verge, the curb, the sidewalk, the front yard, the roadside footstalls and the Wat. The paved portion of the roadway is generally one lane wide. Not one lane wide in each direction – just one lane.
These colorful white and yellow lines mark the center of the lanes and are especially useful on dark and rainy nights.
PASSING OR OVERTAKING
Passing or overtaking is the national pastime in Thailand. Observant motorists among you may have encountered the following:
1. The Vertical Triple Maneuver
The act of passing three vehicles in one accelerated movement.
2. The Horizontal Triple Maneuver
The act of passing a vehicle that in itself is in the act of passing another vehicle.
3. The Double, Double Maneuver
The act of passing a vehicle at precisely the same time that another vehicle, coming from the opposite direction, is also engaged in the act of passing.
Tailgating is what you do when not overtaking.
The act of being overtaken is an insult not to be endured. The greater the differential between the vehicle being passed (BMW) and the passing vehicle (pickup or a low ranking saloon) the greater the potential loss of prestige and face. The owner of the more expensive vehicle must always do everything possible to thwart the attempt of the less expensive vehicle attempting to overtake.
Rapidly flashing headlights can mean anything including but not limited to the following:
• OK to pass now.
• Do not pass now
• Get out of my way
• Help, I am in trouble
It takes years or sometimes an entire lifetime to learn this subtle, intriguing, and non-verbal communication skill. Generally however, you have three seconds
When sounded loudly and frequently, the horn sets up an invisible energy barrier protecting the vehicle and its passengers from all harm. The faster the vehicle is traveling, the better the horn works.
Not only are seatbelts not worn, seatbelts are absolutely unnecessary. Driver and passengers are protected by the horn.
Motorcycles will appear from nowhere and are to be treated with absolute and complete disregard. Animals on the other hand must be treated with great respect. It is presumed that highly evolved creatures like water buffalos, prized bulls, cows, chickens and ducks know how to sidestep a modern vehicle travelling at 150 Km. per hour on a rain slicked road. Dogs born in Thailand on the other hand possess an inbred instinct to leap in front of a speeding vehicle.
Accidents are rare in Thailand and are usually the result of a malfunctioning horn. Be aware that most heavy vehicle drivers if involved in a serious accident will immediately leave the scene of and run to the nearest police station to inform them of the accident. This age old practice is commonly known as “fleeing the scene”
Lights on vehicles are not needed especially at night as they are a drain on the battery. The larger the vehicle (10 wheeled truck, bus, etc.) the less need for illuminating it. Motorcycle riders are presumed to have 20/20 vision in the dark and are immune to all other traffic on the road. If lights are used however, at least one headlight must be pointing in the air. This will ensure that low flying aircraft are detected and will have the added advantage of blinding on-coming drivers.
It is recommended that others purchase insurance. This will ensure that any foreigner involved in an accident will be in a position to take the blame and let the insurance company pay for any damage to both vehicles as well as all hospital bills.
One thing on which I have to strongly disagree with you is on some farang drivers. The number of farangs who happily admit that they drive drunk in Thailand is high, perturbingly high. Now local driving standards may be questionable but this sort of thing is just crazy.
Great piece indeed and it goes as far to make one more than a little nervous at the thought of leaving!