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19 July 2023
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Finding a remedy for reckless driving

Every year, nearly 20,000 people are killed in road accidents in Thailand. That is 50 people every day or two every two hours. Such a horrific toll makes Thailand’s roads among the most dangerous in the world.

The loss not only concerns human lives. The economic cost to the government amounts to nearly 500 billion baht annually, equivalent to about 3.5% of the GDP. The pain and sorrow experienced by families who have lost loved ones due to someone’s reckless driving are immeasurable.

Traffic violations, such as speeding, drunk driving, and running red lights, contribute to approximately 77.9% of these accidents. The solution appears simple: impose fines to make drivers obey traffic laws so they will not do it again. But this is easier said than done.

The statistics are telling. The traffic police issued over 17.9 million tickets in 2022, but only 20% of offenders paid their fines.

In addition, the process for prosecuting traffic violators is cumbersome and resource-intensive.

For a single traffic violation, the police must generate three separate documents, including a traffic ticket sent via mail, a warning letter, and a letter to the Department of Land Transport not to process the violators’ annual vehicle tax payment unless they pay the fines.

The inefficient process leads to infectiveness in traffic law enforcement. As a result, many offenders go unpunished, and some continue their reckless driving habits. It can be seen from the news on multiple occasions that some drivers have outstanding traffic violation fines exceeding a hundred tickets but have not paid them.

DEMERIT SYSTEM

Enter the point deduction system to fill the gap.

Thailand has adopted the demerit deduction system to strengthen traffic law enforcement, reduce repeated offences, and promote safe driving habits to reduce road accidents. But it has many challenges to overcome.

Unlike the previous system, where offenders could easily evade fines and consequences, the point deduction system holds drivers accountable for their actions.

The drivers’ points are deducted with each traffic offence with the likelihood of having their driver’s licences suspended. Repeat offenders can regain their licence after undergoing required training.

In Italy, the demerit deduction point system resulted in a 10% reduction in road accidents, a 25% decrease in fatalities, and a significant increase of 54% to 83% in seatbelt usage.

Similarly, Spain experienced a 12.6% decrease in accidents on national highways within just three months. The United Kingdom also saw success in curbing speeding violations among high-risk drivers.

Thailand has two demerit deduction point systems, one for commercial and public transportation drivers and another for all drivers.

The Department of Land Transport introduced the demerit point system for commercial and public transportation drivers in 2021.

From Dec 1, 2021, to Dec 31, 2022, there were 40,753 violations, resulting in 24,714 drivers losing points and 138 facing a licence suspension.

Commercial vehicle drivers most commonly violate speeding regulations, while passenger refusal is prevalent among public transportation drivers.

Meanwhile, the Royal Thai Police enforced the demerit points system for all drivers in 2023, with over 71,000 drivers having points deducted for offences like not wearing a helmet, lacking a valid annual tax sticker, and driving without a licence plate.

When a driver’s demerit points reach zero, their licence is suspended for 90 days. Repeat suspensions within three years lead to longer suspension durations, and if suspended again within one year, the licence is revoked. To regain their licence, drivers must undergo 2-4 hours of training and testing specified by the Department of Land Transport.

The system, however, faces several challenges, starting with its limited application to only licensed drivers. Due to lax penalties, many drive without licences.

Consistent and strong enforcement of traffic laws is another challenge. Inconsistency only produces short-term behaviour changes during periods of intense law enforcement. Continuous and strict enforcement, meanwhile, promotes long-term safe driving habits. Measures like random inspections, speed detection cameras, and alcohol testing should also be employed to enhance enforcement.

For speed cameras, however, it is essential to install them adequately at a ratio of one camera per 6,000-8,000 people.

Additionally, at least one out of every five drivers must undergo an alcohol test by the police. Finland and Norway serve as examples, conducting over 300 alcohol tests per 1,000 drivers.

SAFETY DRIVING EDUCATION

Another difficulty in Thailand is the testing and training curriculum. It is a passive video-based training that focuses on learning about accidents in general, their causes, and relevant laws. As a result, it cannot produce real behavioural change and ethical driving attitudes. The training period is also extremely short compared to other countries.

For example, the United Kingdom targets problematic behaviours such as drunk driving or speeding. Violators receive personalised recommendations for behaviour change through interactive sessions and driving evaluations.

Thailand should therefore upgrade its testing and training programmes to help drivers quit bad driving habits more effectively.

Since Thailand’s demerit deduction system is relatively new, few people are aware of it. Thanks to “Kubdee” (good driving) application and the Royal Thai Police’s online traffic ticket system, drivers can check their demerit points, ticket details, and licence status, pay fines, dispute charges, and receive updates conveniently. Therefore, raising public awareness of this system is essential to assist drivers and increase its effectiveness.

Overcoming these challenges is crucial, as it is not just about fine-tuning a system; it’s about saving lives. Far too many people are killed in preventable accidents.

Strengthening the demerit point system will spare families the agony of losing loved ones in senseless tragedies.

Writer : Saliltorn Thongmeensuk, PhD, is a research fellow, and Napat Pattarapisan, Jitlakha Sukruay, Chattrika Napatanapong and Suphawit Santadkarn are researchers at the Thailand Development Research Institute Foundation (TDRI).

First Publish: Bangkok Post On19 July 2023


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