Two years ago, a driver’s licence point system was introduced in Thailand, in an attempt to decrease road accidents. There is, however, scant evidence that the system really works, as road traffic accidents and deaths in 2022 increased from the previous year.
Data from the Department of Disease Control, at Ministry of Public Health, showed that 16,957 people died in traffic accidents in 2021, while there were estimated 17,791 fatalities in 2022. Nevertheless, the system is now being enforced nationwide, effective January 9th, 2023.
Dr. Witaya Chadbunchachai, a Thai road safety expert and the director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, pointed out that, according to the WHO, Thailand has two weaknesses. Firstly, a management problem, with our leading organisations not performing effectively. Secondly, there is the “Road Safety Thailand” body, who are responsible for this issue, but it operates as a committee, not as an institution with a clear mandate and responsibilities.
The Royal Thai Police also realise that these two major factors contribute to Thailand’s infamous lack of road safety. They hope that this points system will make motorists and motorcyclists more compliant with the traffic laws.
Under the system, each driving licence holder is given 12 points, which will be deducted for each violation they are caught committing. A large number of Thai motorists do not, however, even hold a driving licence.
Dr. Witaya stated that there are approximately 20 million motorcycles in Thailand, half of the riders do not have a driving licence. So, because they do not have a licence, they do not have any points to deduct. They have zero points to start with.
He added “those who do not have a driving licence, if they violate the law, will they be punished? I think they should be punished and the penalty must be heavier than a point deduction. Otherwise, people won’t apply for a driving licence, because of the lower penalty for driving without a licence”.
“This is still unsystematic in law. There was no clear announcement on January 9th as to whether or how drivers and riders without licences will be punished,” he added.
At the moment, CCTV and speed cameras only operate in some areas. Nonetheless, Dr. Witaya strongly believes that, if the police enforce the system strictly and consistently publicise the situation, it would have an effect on people’s behaviour and traffic accidents would definitely reduce.
“This must be widely publicised, including talking about the wrongdoers. Show the public how many people get points deducted. It needs to demonstrate that the police are now getting tough. Without this communication planning, or only issuing an internal monthly statistics report, this system will be ineffective. This is a crucial strategic measure which must be used to make this points system successful”, Dr. Witaya said.
It is necessary for everyone to be aware of road safety measures and the traffic laws. Children should learn about road safety, starting in kindergarten. Workshops are also important for students at all levels. The ministry of education should, accordingly, be more proactive.
“In this regard, we have to go back one more step. The major obstacle in solving Thailand’s road safety problem is that we lack a strong leading organisation. There must be a roadmap. We actually have one, the fifth edition already. It is clearly defined which organisation is responsible for what part, including the ministry of education. Actually, there is a curriculum, but there should be a workshop as well. For example, how to cross the road safely, how to ride a motorcycle or drive a car correctly. We still lack these practical lessons, like how kindergarten pupils can safely cross the road and not be hit by a car. A road safety workshop is needed”, said the expert.
Each year, one million people are injured in road accidents, almost 20,000 people lose their lives, let alone the many thousands who became permanently disabled. Road accidents have been one of the most serious problems in Thailand for more than 20 years. This crisis needs a multi-sectoral approach, meaning all parties in Thai society must participate and help mitigate this problem.
By Jeerapa Boonyatus