When I think of the awful weather and driving conditions in England at this time of the year you'd think I'd be very happy to be driving in sunny and warm Thailand, wouldn't you? Well, maybe . . .
The UK in winter: darkness descends as early as 4pm and it doesn't really get light until 8.30am. Besides early morning mist and fog, UK drivers often have to contend with freezing conditions, snow and ice, strong winds and driving rain. Some mornings it can take up to twenty minutes just to de-ice the door locks, clear the driveway of snow and clear the windscreen! Compared to the long and sunny days (I wish!) of summer, winter driving can be very difficult and dangerous; extra care and attention on the roads is essential.
Despite the hazards prevailing over one third of the year, the number of deaths on UK roads (about 3,000 per year) is only about 6% that of Thailand (50,000). This huge disparity does not take into account the huge number of additional vehicles on British roads and also that substantially more miles are driven per vehicle. Furthermore, the number of UK deaths includes those who die of their injuries within 30 days whereas the Thai figure is only compiled only from the number of fatalities recorded by the police at the scene of the accident. This is shocking, if those who later died were included in the figures one can only guess the actual death toll, though it would surely be at least two, maybe three times higher. According to how the statistics are compiled, these are the people who died instantly . . on the spot. Wham! Vehicles ramming into each other, trees, lamp posts or walls with such force that no-one stood a chance. Pedestrians being flung into the air, ground into the dirt, crushed against steel. Dead.
Thailand does not have a developed paramedic service and many submissions to this site have commented on the quality of care and facilities of hospitals, particularly those in the provinces. The chances of survival from an accident where damage to the head or internal organs is sustained must be very slim. There is carnage out there – Thais are killing each other at a frantic rate – and permanently disabling hundreds of thousands each year. But, and we have all seen this, a crowd gathers for a closer look then disperses like it never happened. Well, it didn't happen – to them! Mai Pen Rai.
Newspapers report year after year that during major 3-4 day holiday events between 600-800 Thais lose their lives – or to put it accurately, 600 – 800 poor souls are found dead at the scene of a road accident over the new year or Songkran festivals. Imagine Thai Airways crashing two full 747s in a weekend. Or 18 buses going off a cliff. But is anyone really bothered about this? How about the road traffic police? Nah, they're more concerned about lining their own pockets collecting on the spot fines for minor (or non-existent) offences while the traffic roars past to its death. Amazing Thailand.
Then there are those who do survive, suffering smashed faces, crushed bodies and limbs who'll never walk . . or work . . ever again. And that number is in the many hundreds of thousands each year. I often wonder where all these people must be! Obviously imprisoned within their homes and confined to either bed or wheel-chair, unable to go out and imposing an additional burden on a family that already struggles to support and feed even the able-bodied. Again, no-one appears to care, no one seems bothered, because nothing ever gets done and nothing ever changes.
In just the last few days of driving around Pattaya I have seen several accidents, one certainly resulting in death, and other less serious but more disturbing incident just yesterday on Jomtien beach road when a driver ran over and crushed a girl motorcyclist's foot … and you guessed it, just kept on driving, leaving the poor girl in agony. I saw exactly the same thing happen – also on Jomtien Beach road – around 9 months ago to a young Asian tourist while he was crossing the road. I just don't have the words to comment on what I saw. Again, the vehicle didn't stop.
Later, travelling along the Sukhumvit highway we saw a coach being towed by a recovery truck. It had rolled on to its side, was covered in mud and its double windscreens were smashed and the front-end badly dented. If I tell you that I felt a grim satisfaction at seeing this, please forgive me. The dangerous, foolhardy and irresponsible way in which I see these coaches and public service vehicles being driven on a DAILY basis is quite simply beyond belief. The coach might well have been coming from Nong Nooch gardens, I've personally witnessed on many occasions – around 5.30 to 6pm – these drivers compete with each other on the race back to Pattaya, and God help anyone who gets in their way! A supposedly 'professional' driver in charge of a Bt 10 million bus AND 40-odd lives on board – but heck, who gives a damn!
The standard of driving of bus and coach drivers in Thailand is a national disgrace which is openly displayed for everyone to see and despite horrendous accidents occurring on an almost daily basis, and will keep on doing so for ever and ever as far as I can see. Many of you will remember the newspaper report about two coaches carrying school children that crashed. The drivers were clearly racing each other, the first driver lost control and the second was driving so close that he rammed into the back of the first vehicle. I forget how many children were killed and seriously injured in that horrific incident, maybe the reason being that it was so quickly forgotten. Why was there no national outcry against this? Certainly, what I do know is that this kind of driving is still continuing. I started writing this yesterday, and last night while sitting outside a restaurant on Route 3 near to Rayong, I heard the blast of air horns and turned to watch three coaches travelling at speed through traffic lights with hardly a car length in between them. Yes, the passengers were all children. The managers and owners of the bus / coach companies must only travel by plane or private helicopter – because I'm damned certain of this – a report would be filed and the driver instantly dismissed should this kind of reckless behavior be reported to management in the west.
At an average of 5'6" in height, 50,000 people placed head to toe would stretch for 52 miles! Imagine that next time you drive along the highway. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, best friends, husbands, wives, children and undoubtedly small babies too (though not 5'6" ones). All lifeless and lined head to toe . . stretching for 52 &#@*!$ miles. And this, EACH – AND EVERY – YEAR!
At an average weight of 50kg the bodies, packed like sardines, would fill a container freight train about one and a half kilometers long.
Next time you watch a news report about casualties in Iraq or victims of an earthquake, landslide, flood or other natural disaster, just remember that there is a quiet genocide being conducted, crunching far higher numbers, right here in Thailand – under our very noses.
Mai Pen Rai.
Driving in Thailand is an absolute nightmare. I leave home looking forward to a smooth, relaxing drive in my car; slap in a CD, open all the windows (when possible I prefer that to using air-con) and set off. Of course we have been taught to move with the flow of traffic … but almost within minutes someone is either inches from my rear bumper or trying to pass me on the inside or the outside – whether there is a lane for them to do so or not!
U-turns: The Thai way of carrying out this highly dangerous maneuver is to wait until there is a heavy flow of traffic both behind and in front and then to start to turn at a crawl, ensuring that everyone has to stop. Waiting for an interval in the traffic or an open / clear road is apparently just no fun at all.
It's the same either joining or leaving a flow of traffic – The idea is to inconvenience as many other drivers as possible … by coming to an almost dead stop in your traffic lane before turning left, or when joining a carriageway taking great care to accelerate as slowly as possible, causing oncoming traffic to brake sharply. If the oncoming traffic is distant, you should wait patiently until they are within a range of 50 metres. Then SLOWLY pull out.
Of course, if you want to travel at twenty kilometers an hour – be it on a dual carriage way or even the fast lane of a motorway – then go ahead! Thailand. Thai means free, doesn't it? Do as you like! And 'being in the moment' means that you can drive your car and carry out a telephone conversation with your friend just as though you are sitting at home! The fact that there are large metal objects whizzing past your window . . Nah, forget it.
Well Thais like to laugh and smile a lot. We all enjoy a laugh, life should be fun, what's all this being serious about. Don't spoil the sanuk! My favourite (actually it drives me F* crazy, but never mind) (Aghh, MAI PEN RAI – now I just said it!!!!!!!) is the bus with the extra loud two tone air horns . .
The driver is doing 160km hour. A mile or so in the distance he spots a young girl, standing by the side of the road. WOAH-HEY! A PASSENGER!!!! He tugs frantically at the cord dangling by his seat and the piercing, ear shattering air horns burst into life! DJoooooo-Jooooo-wooooo-woooooooo-Djooooooo. Djooooooo-Woooooooooo. Djoo-Djoo-Woooo! I'm sorry, I had to abbreviate this as I don't have all day. Djoooooo-Djoooooooo. Woooooo-Wooooo-Wooooo!
The girl stands motionless. Not even the blink of eye.
The two front tyres of the bus come together like a forefinger and thumb and whistle through the radiator: Wheeeeeeeeeeee-Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee.
A huge 50 foot golden neon arrow appears in the sky, pointing directly at THE BUS! THE BUS IS COMING!
The black and white minstrel show appears on the roof, singing . . La-la-la! La-la-la, see-the-bus, wave-the-bus, take-the-bus. DooooYooooWaaaantDeeeeeBoooos?
Now every eye is on the girl. The traffic has stopped. Doors open, people come out of their houses and into the street. The BUS. The BUS. DON'T YOU SEE THE BUS?
The bus is one side of the traffic lights, the girl on the other. The driver lets out another blast of such length and intensity that windows rattle and fillings fall out of teeth.
The lights change to green. Blaring and snarling and wheeeing the bus makes it's final offer. The girl (as only Asians can) completely ignores everything and in a choking cloud of dust and diesel the bus roars into the distance.
MAI PEN RAI
No argument from me on the driving standards here – they're abysmal. I would dispute your 50,000 figure though. I thought it was more like 15,000…could be wrong though.