Many people travel during long holiday breaks, such as New Year and Songkran, resulting in an increase in road accidents. This is why the New Year and Songkran holidays are dubbed the “seven dangerous days”.
Songkran this year resulted in a staggering number of road-related accidents, 366 deaths and 3,345 injuries.
Another alarming road accident statistic involves public buses. In the six months from October last year to April this year, there were 97 deaths from four major accidents involving double-decker buses.
Several factors caused these bus accidents, such as inexperienced drivers or drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and poorly maintained roads and bad weather. Another important factor is the road worthiness of the vehicle.
The recent accidents damaged the public’s confidence in bus transport, especially double-deckers.
A Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) study in 2012 revealed the standard of buses in Thailand did not meet the United Nation Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) regulations for motor vehicles.
Last year, the Department of Land Transport issued a notice requiring newly registered buses with a height above 3.6 metres to pass a tilting test. However, less than 60% of the buses that performed the test passed.
Furthermore, the DLT still has a number of UNECE regulations pending which are very important for large passenger vehicle safety, such as UNECE Regulation 66 on the provisions concerning the strength of large passenger vehicle’s superstructure. The basic approval method would require buses to go through a rollover test.
The other major problem is compensation for victims of public bus accidents. A TDRI report released last year, “Bus Accident Victims: Impact, Insurance, and Compensation”, suggested there are obstacles in the current system that prevent victims from receiving adequate compensation.
There is a compulsory insurance scheme that requires all vehicles to have third-party liability insurance with minimum coverage of 200,000 baht per person.
This minimum coverage is rather low. A court would typically penalise a public bus operator 700,000 baht or more in compensation for the family of the deceased.
Given this amount, many public transport operators cover their own risks by purchasing additional insurance on top of the required coverage.
The most popular one is the affordable third-class type which provides an additional coverage of 300,000 baht per person.
When combined, the insurance schemes cover 500,000 baht and public transportation operators still have to pay 200,000 baht per passenger.
Normally, public bus operators are small operators with fewer than five buses.
If the accident involves a large number of casualties, 15 or more, it is very likely that a small bus operator will be unable to pay the required compensation to the victims.
Clearly, we need a system that ensures public bus passengers can travel safely and will receive proper compensation if an accident occurs.
It would make sense to increase the insurance coverage to around 1 million baht per person to cover the costs of accidents.
Bus operators should also get risk ratings.
Operators who have made a number of claims and have a higher risk rating should pay higher insurance premiums.
A higher insurance premium would hopefully lead to safer driving, as operators would need to avoid crashes to ensure their company’s commercial success.
Sumet Ongkittikul is a senior research fellow with the Thailand Development Research Institute. Policy analyses from TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.
First published: Bangkok Post, April 23, 2014