More road deaths in Thailand over New Year

In the deadliest New Year accident, this collision on Monday left 25 people dead.
In the deadliest New Year accident, this collision on Monday left 25 people dead.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Body count was 478 over 'seven dangerous days' despite safety drive and tough penalties

BANGKOK • Nearly 480 people died on Thailand's roads over the New Year holiday, official figures showed yesterday - a 25 per cent rise during the so-called "seven dangerous days", despite the ruling junta's tough talk on drink driving.

The kingdom has some of the world's most lethal roads, with the carnage spiking over the period between Dec 29 and Jan 4 as millions of city workers returned to their rural homes.

Thailand's junta government has launched repeated crackdowns on drink driving since its 2014 power grab, including approving harsher penalties for offenders and forcing drivers to visit mortuaries holding the bodies of accident victims. But the toll over the last week still soared to 478 - up from the 380 recorded during the same period last year, according to the Interior Ministry's disaster prevention department.

"The main reason... was drunk driving and speeding," said Deputy Interior Minister Suthee Markboon, adding that the majority of the 3,919 crashes involved motor- cyclists.

The Department of Land Transport cited different figures in its release on Wednesday, saying 426 people died in 3,327 accidents between Dec 29 and Jan 3, up from 340 the previous year.

Meanwhile, the army said officials arrested nearly 67,000 people for drink driving and seized more than 4,000 cars between Dec 29 and Jan 4.

The deadliest accident saw 25 people killed on Monday when a packed minivan and pick-up truck collided in eastern Chonburi province.

Experts say a lack of helmet-wearing among motorcyclists is a major factor for the high death rate. Traffic cops are also notorious for taking bribes.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the seven days, junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha conceded his government had lost this year's battle.

"We did the best we could, we had more checkpoints, more authorities, we seized tens of thousands of vehicles, but still we had more casualties," he said.

Nevertheless he vowed to double down on safety checks ahead of Songkran, Thailand's traditional New Year holiday in April - the other week that the Thai press tags the "seven dangerous days".

Thailand's road death rate is the highest in the world after war-ravaged Libya, according to a 2015 World Health Organisation report.

Road and boat accidents involving tourists are common in Thailand, where safety standards are sometimes well below international norms.

But despite its woeful road and sea safety record, it remains a magnet for foreign visitors.

AGENCE-FRANCE PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'More road deaths in Thailand over New Year'. Print Edition | Subscribe