BANGKOK • Drink drivers in Thailand will be sentenced to community service in morgues, the authorities said yesterday, stepping up efforts to combat the country's appalling traffic safety record.
Thailand's junta hopes the morbid rehabilitation plan will ram home the message that drink driving kills and help to reduce traffic- related deaths in a country with the world's second-most dangerous roads.
Mr Nontajit Netpukkana, a senior official at the department of probation, said Thailand's Cabinet had approved the morgue proposal.
"We originally had community services at hospital wards (for offenders)," he said yesterday. "But we think the intensity that comes from working in a morgue will help give those doing community service a clearer picture of what happens after accidents caused by drink driving," he said.
The announcement coincides with Songkran, an annual three- day festival that kicks off today and marks the Thai new year.
It is celebrated with water throwing, partying and, more often than not, heavy drinking - a lethal combination given that many people make long journeys to their hometowns to celebrate with family.
Each year, hundreds of people are killed on Thailand's roads during the Songkran week.
It is one of two periods dubbed the "Seven Deadly Days" by the Thai government and press - the other being the Western new year.
But while attention tends to be focused on those two holidays, each week brings carnage on Thailand's roads.
Despite its relative wealth and infrastructure, the kingdom has the second-most dangerous roads in the world in terms of per capita deaths. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 24,000 people die each year in Thai road traffic accidents.
Only Libya records a greater number of fatalities per capita.
Successive government promises - both civilian and military - have made little dent in the annual death toll.
Over the new year, the junta announced a renewed crackdown on drink drivers, including powers to impound cars. But it appeared to make little difference. By the end of the week, 380 people had died on the roads and more than 3,300 were injured, according to government data, making it the highest toll in five years.
The WHO figures, however, would suggest that the true number is far higher and that Thailand, like many other countries, vastly under-reports the severity of the problem.