Thailand’s road deaths surge despite junta’s hardline tactics
BANGKOK – The number of deaths on Thailand’s roads increased over the New Year period despite a crackdown on drunk drivers by the ruling junta, according to official statistics released on Tuesday.
The government said 380 people had died in 3,379 accidents during a seasonal surge dubbed the “Seven Dangerous Days”, the highest toll in five years on what are already some of the world’s deadliest roads.
Thailand reported a higher road death rate than any other country apart from war-ravaged Libya in a report published last year by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Traffic accidents killed more than 24,000 people in 2012 and shaved 3 percent off gross domestic product, according to the most recent WHO estimates.
The junta, which seized power in 2014, vowed to reduce the death toll during this year’s holiday by dispatching soldiers to temporarily impound more than 4,000 cars and motorbikes from drunk drivers.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told Reuters the number of accidents caused by drunk driving and speeding had decreased from last year, which proved how well the policy had worked.
Sansern also said it was wrong to compare the latest New Year statistics with those of the previous year, when there were roughly 12 percent fewer deaths and accidents.
“There were more cars on the road this year and also more roads, so we cannot make such a comparison with last year,” he said.
A WHO expert in Bangkok urged Thailand to abandon its obsession with seasonal surges and focus on reducing fatalities all year round. There is another “Seven Dangerous Days” during Buddhist New Year in April.
“It’s actually 365 dangerous days in Thailand,” said Liviu Vedrasco, a technical officer who advises the health ministry on road safety and other issues.
Enforcement of laws mandating the use of seat belts and crash helmets is weak while drunk or careless driving is common, as are crashes involving mass fatalities.
A bus crash in northern Thailand killed 13 Chinese tourists and a Thai guide on Dec. 20.
Vedrasco praised a health ministry initiative, launched in early December, to collect more accurate data on accidents, and called the junta’s policy of impounding cars “an excellent action”.
The policy, which government spokesman Sansern said would continue, was enabled by Article 44, a sweeping security provision which replaced martial law last April.
It allows authorities to impound cars for at least seven days and confiscate driving licenses for up to 30 days.
Drunk drivers can be detained for “attitude adjustment”, a tactic usually reserved for the junta’s political opponents. –Reuters