Road traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in Thailand. Fatalities are extremely high. The Ministry of Public Health estimated the number of road accident fatalities using several data sets to be around 23,000 in 2012.
Although the trend of road accident casualties is not increasing, it is not decreasing either, and unless real efforts are made to improve road safety measures, people will continue to die unnecessarily.
Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released its Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015, highlighting that over 1.2 million people are killed each year in traffic accidents, making road accidents a leading cause of death globally. This report also revealed road traffic deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries are estimated to cause economic losses of up to 5% of a country’s GDP. The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) estimated that in 2013, road traffic accidents cost Thailand roughly 2% of GDP – a number also considered very high.
According to the WHO report, road traffic fatalities in Thailand occur at a rate of 36.2 per 100,000 population, with 73% of deaths motorcyclists. This fatality rate is double the global average of 17.5 per 100,000 people. On the positive side, road traffic fatalities have dropped in Thailand since the 2013 report, which reported 38.1 deaths per 100,000 people. There are several lessons we should learn from the WHO report regarding road safety policy implementation in various sectors.
The WHO report also identifies key road safety policy and measures, namely the institutional framework for road safety policy, safer roads (infrastructure), safer vehicles, safer road users and immediate post-crash care. In general, the WHO assessment shows Thailand has performed poorly in all areas except for post-crash care. For example, Thailand scores only 3 out of 10 for speed limit enforcement. The assessment indicates a lack of clear policy direction to reduce road accidents and also highlights the nation’s difficulties in implementing improved road safety measures.
The main components related to road safety are road users, vehicles and infrastructure. All three elements have to be safely designed and operated. Road safety policy in Thailand is inadequately managed, to say the least. In Thailand, most traffic accidents are related to driver behaviour, such as speeding and drink driving. Typically, law enforcement is lax and fails to keep roads safe where it would typically be a key way to prevent casualties. Weak legislation and ad hoc supervision by supporting agencies also exacerbate the risks of road accidents.
The TDRI’s ongoing research on Monitoring and Evaluation of Road Safety Programme suggests two important steps for the government to take to improve road safety.
First, traffic safety laws should be strictly and continuously enforced. The lack of continuous enforcement gives the wrong signal to drivers who speed, drive under the influence of alcohol and do not wear helmets. Second, structural problems – such as vehicle safety standards and road infrastructure design – should be clearly addressed. Vehicle standards for frontal impact and electronic stability control are not yet applied in Thailand. Seat belts for rear seat occupants are not compulsory. The TDRI’s findings also revealed that cooperation between road safety agencies at the local level in some provinces can successfully reduce road accident casualties and injuries.
Both the TDRI and the WHO strongly urge Thailand to immediately improve the enforcement of road safety standards to reduce the high risks of road accidents linked to speeding, lack of seatbelts or helmets and drink driving. The TDRI report found many Thai regulations dealing with these risks are appropriate but they cannot be enforced systematically. For example, laws to limit speeding are clearly segmented in different areas, but local authorities rarely enforce the laws.
In terms of policy, all government agencies relevant to road safety policies at the national and local levels need to work more closely and synergistically together to reduce the number of casualties. Road safety laws need to be stronger, more practical and effectively enforced to curb speeding and drink driving. Only serious government determination can stop road accidents. Without a systematic approach to reduce unnecessary deaths and address ad hoc law enforcement by police, road users will continue to face daily hazards.
Sumet Ongkittikul is Director for Transport and Logistics Policy at the Thailand Development Research Institute. Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the ‘Bangkok Post’ on alternate Wednesdays.
First published: Bangkok Post, November 11, 2015