Without Wheels, My Story
Your discussion of the problems of vehicle ownership for Farangs in Thailand brings back to mind the accident I had a few years ago when I was driving from my teerak's home village into the local town, Uttaradit. I was actually in the wrong, having turned my rented (in Chiang Mai) Toyota pickup right across oncoming traffic (upon the authoritative urging of my girlfriend to "Turn here!!!" when I was about to miss my turn to the Lotus) and having a motorcycle bounce off me. Needless to say, my big extended cab Toyota diesel (and myself and the girlfriend) came through nearly undamaged. I can't say the same for the "body parts donor" (that's what we called the motor scooter riders when I lived and drove for three years in Malaysia, since they drove in a seemingly reckless manner with no regard for their own safety).
Unfortunately for me, after my initial mistake of turning right across oncoming traffic (Mistake number 1, universally recognized throughout the world, although in the US the equivalent would be a left-hand turn since we drive on the correct side of the road over here), I compounded that error by acting like a caring human being. I stopped my vehicle, blocked the intersection around the downed motorcycle driver, and administered first aid (Mistake number 2… staying at the scene of an accident instead of running away). The cyclist had some road rash, which is to be expected since you seldom see a Thai wearing proper clothing, footwear, and a helmet… but considering the hot weather, I guess you can't fault them for not dressing out in leathers and boots. But the most serious injury was a gash down to the bone on one finger, with the bone underneath broken. I quickly pulled out a clean handkerchief I always have on hand and held it around the wound until the ambulance came (yep, one actually came… we were about one kilometer from the local hospital). Of course, the boys in brown also arrived to take over traffic control, and eventually, to see how much money they could get from me. They were all efficiency and very polite at first. If I had only known what was soon to transpire.
As we waited, I repeatedly told the cyclist that I was sorry (in my terrible Thai), and he repeatedly told me "Mai bpen rai". Too bad that sentiment didn't hold for long.
As the ambulance left the scene, the police started talking with me. It seemed pretty standard, taking down an accident report just like in the United States. I gave them my information, to include the insurance coverage. I provided them the photocopy of my passport I always carry (one thing to always keep in mind is never carry the real thing; only carry a photocopy – once they have the real thing, you are truly at their mercy).
Then the police lieutenant arrived at the scene. I started to wonder why a section supervisor would need to show up for a traffic accident. Surely his officers were capable of taking down all the information and painting the accident outlines on the road. I very quickly gained an understanding of why he was there. He approached me and told me privately that for 10,000 baht "this can all go away".
"But I have insurance", I said, sure that this would handle any vehicle and medical issues (Mistake numbers 3 and 4, assuming that the police gave a damn about me having the correct insurance to cover this, and turning down the initial request for bribe).
"Okay, we will handle this back at the station then" said the officer with the skin tight uniform (you really have to admire anyone who wears skin tight polyester in a tropical climate).
Of course, the police don't care about the insurance. That doesn't include a cut for them. Instead, they entered into secret negotiations with the family of the injured man, about an hour's drive away. For him and his family (not for themselves of course), they negotiated a settlement of 30,000 baht (from my teerak's bank account… never carry that much cash on your body in Thailand) for me to pay for injury, suffering, lost income, and motorcycle repairs. All officially documented with pictures when I turned over the money. Of course, what wasn't said was that the police took at least half that sum for themselves. If only I'd taken the first offer of 10,000 baht at the scene. I'd have saved 20,000 baht and about six hours of my time (during which time I actually went to the hospital to check and make sure the cyclist was okay). Stupid western moral principles.
My insurance did end up paying for the repairs to the truck I had rented (a dent to the fender where the motorcycle and rider bounced off), so it actually worked for something, miracle of miracles.
To follow this up, the family of the injured guy kept trying to blackmail me for more money, but by then I'd left the country, and my girlfriend's family (their address in the village was the one I gave to the police) just played it dumb, saying "He is gone, not coming back." This was followed up by a letter from his insurance (it appears the other driver actually had insurance also, a real rarity!) for me to pay them back for what they had paid for his motorcycle repairs (Isn't that why we all have insurance? I told them to talk to my insurance, which refused to pay the other company based upon the 30,000 baht I paid at the police station.). As the final straw, a "lawyer" sent a letter saying the other motorist had died about 6 months later, and asking for death gratuity. As if a cut and broken finger had caused him to die after 6 months. After about a year, it all finally ended as the girlfriend's family in the village did a good job of covering for me.
During following trips back to the area, I had this pleasant memory reinforced by the paint markings that still hadn't quite washed away at the accident scene (I was riding by in a songthaew / baht bus). So the real question is would I ever drive myself in Thailand again? Not unless there was a compelling reason not to take the bus!
A wonderful story and one which very clearly demonstrates why some have a general reluctance to drive in Thailand!