Thai government campaign sees drop in road deaths during Songkran festival

BANGKOK (AFP) - The number of people killed on Thailand's roads during the country's traditional new year week dropped by more than ten per cent following a government campaign to end the annual carnage.

The kingdom has some of the world's most lethal roads, with accidents spiking over Songkran - the Thai new year festival in April - as millions of city workers return to their country homes.

Both Songkran and the western New Year are both dubbed the "seven deadly days" because of the surge in crashes and road fatalities.

Figures released on Tuesday (April 18) showed 390 people lost their lives on Thailand's roads during the previous seven days, an eleven per cent decrease on the previous year.

Thailand's junta government has launched repeated crackdowns on drink driving since it came to power in 2014, including approving harsher penalties for offenders, seizing vehicles and forcing drivers to visit mortuaries holding the bodies of accident victims.

But until now all the previous campaigns showed no reductions.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday said there was still work to be done to persuade Thais to drive more responsibly.

"No I am not satisfied because people are still dead," he told reporters.

Despite relatively good infrastructure, Thailand has the world's second most dangerous roads in terms of per capita deaths, according to data collected by the World Health Organisation in a 2015 report.

Figures show drink-driving remains stubbornly entrenched in Thailand.

Nearly a third of accidents over this year's Songkran - 28 per cent - were caused by drunk driving. Military authorities said they also seized 5,600 motorbikes and 1,800 cars driven by people who were over the limit.

Experts say speeding and a lack of helmet-wearing among motorcyclists are also major factors behind the high death rate.

The kingdom's traffic cops are also notorious for bribe-taking and letting wealthy, well-connected drivers off the hook for offences.

Neighbouring Myanmar, which also celebrates the traditional new year over the same period, said 285 people were killed on its roads last week.