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Thailand’s ‘Seven Dangerous Days’ of the Songkran Festival

Songkran celebration in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Panupong Roopyai, Copyright @Demotix (4/12/2014)

Songkran celebration in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Panupong Roopyai, Copyright @Demotix (4/12/2014)

Songkran Festival, Thailand’s traditional New Year celebrated every April, is popularly associated with water events, family reunions, and various festivities across the country. But it is also the period when road accidents shoot up that it is referred to by the police as the ‘Seven Dangerous Days’ of the New Year.

The government often campaigns for a ‘Zero Death Songkran’ but it has never succeeded. This year, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is hoping that the holiday period would be ‘Seven Happy Days’ with minimal road tragedies.

But so far, more than 850 accidents were already registered in the past two days of the Songkran Festival. According to reports, these accidents led to 102 deaths and 893 injuries. The first two days were as dangerous as the previous years.

The Bangkok Post reminded authorities that the crashes are preventable:

What compounds the Songkran tragedy is that so few people seem to care. The dramatic spike in road deaths during Songkran has become not only expected but accepted: The official response from police and politicians shows only small improvements, while the behaviour of those in charge of vehicles gets no better despite the high death toll. It is almost treated as though the consequence of having so many drunk drivers and motorcyclists was a matter of fate rather than physics, as if taking to the roads on Songkran was a form of natural selection.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. While it’s true that more people will be in more vehicles on country roads this week, the vast majority of crashes are preventable.

Statistics confirmed that most accidents involved drunk driving and overspeeding.

For Khon Kaen, the government lacks political will in ensuring road safety:

This year’s Songkran is more of the same with way too many road deaths reported – highly under-reported – yet the Thai Government never does anything to prevent the accidents.

The Thai Government talked about banning alcohol during Songkran but it didn’t get approved. They talked about banning the sale of alcohol from sidewalk vendors – no approval. Should just get rid of the sidewalk vendors as they are all illegal. Talked about not throwing water from the back of pick-up trucks – no approval – though this is strongly recommended.

There is also suspicion that the number of casualties is not being reported accurately:

The Thai Government failed to report the accident in Chanthaburi Province where 8 Cambodians died at the scene and two more in the hospital. Why? Because they weren’t Thai? Because they were Cambodian? To save face and the precious image of Thailand?

But beyond Songkran, Thailand actually has the highest record for fatal road accidents in Southeast Asia. About 38 out of 100,000 people die from road accidents in Thailand annually compared to the global average of 18.

On March 24 a bus accident in Tak province in western Thailand killed more than 30 people. A month earlier, 15 school bus passengers died after their vehicle collided with an 18-wheeler truck in Prachinburi province. On December 27, at least 29 tourists died after their bus plunged into a deep gorge in Petchabun province.

Bus accidents may have figured prominently in the past few months, but statistically-speaking, it’s more dangerous to ride motorbikes in Thailand. More than 11,000 motorbike drivers or passengers die from road accidents annually, representing 70 percent of the country’s road fatalities.

For Weerawit Wajjanapukka, chief of the Traffic Police Division in Bangkok, strict enforcement of traffic rules would be meaningless if drivers continue to be irresponsible on the road.

It seems most drivers only display road etiquette to pass their driving test. It’s very important that everyone puts those values and correct practices into practice. Strict law enforcement alone can only fix the tip of the problem; we need contributions from every driver.

Road safety is an issue that should be seriously addressed by Thai authorities. Hopefully, there will be fewer accidents in the next five days of the Songkran Festival. May the New Year inspire Thai officials to review its traffic policies and how it is going to make land travel more fun and safe for everyone in the country.

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