Thailand: Deadliest country for motorcyclists

Unsafe motorbike-riding practices, including children and pillion riders not wearing helmets, are said to be a common sight in Thailand, especially in the provinces. A 2015 study reported that most motorbike deaths were due to fatal head injuries amo
Unsafe motorbike-riding practices, including children and pillion riders not wearing helmets, are said to be a common sight in Thailand, especially in the provinces. A 2015 study reported that most motorbike deaths were due to fatal head injuries among pillion riders.PHOTO: THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Lax helmet laws, letting kids ride motorbikes among reasons for rising number of deaths

A father gives his young son a new motorcycle for his birthday.

"Study well... Don't hit anyone," he says. The boy gets on the motorcycle and rides out of the gate, whereupon another rider crashes into him.

This road safety awareness video, released by Ramathibodi Hospital's Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Centre (CSIP) last year, has resonated with many in Thailand, where 73 per cent of traffic-related deaths involve motorcycles.

Experts said last month that, on average, 5,500 motorcyclists die annually - or 15 deaths a day. The figure continues to climb, making Thailand the world's deadliest country for two-wheelers. The issue returned to the fore this month after two separate motorbike accidents in Phuket killed a pregnant British tourist and seriously injured another British tourist.

"If you take motorcycles out of the equation, Thailand's roads will be as safe as (those in) Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom," Dr Liviu Vedrasco, health cluster chief at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Bangkok, told The Sunday Times.

In a 2015 report, WHO said there were 26.3 motorcycle-related deaths for every 100,000 people in Thailand, the highest in the world.

Motorcycles are a common mode of transport for Thais. Last year, they bought 1.74 million motorcycles compared with only 768,788 cars, according to the Thai Automotive Industry Association. In the first quarter of this year, 461,783 motorcycles were sold.

  • 5,500

    Number of motorcyclists who die every year in Thailand, or 15 a day

    73%

    Traffic-related deaths involving motorcycles

    26.3

    Motorcycle-related deaths per 100,000 population

    53%

    Percentage of motorcycle riders who wear helmets. Only 7 per cent of children and 19 per cent of pillion passengers do so

    Sources: WHO, Thailand Accident Research Centre, Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, Thai Automotive Industry Association

A 2015 study by the Thailand Accident Research Centre (Tarc) said motorbikes are popular for their convenience, low fuel and maintenance costs, and affordability.

CSIP director Adisak Plitpolkarnpim said the practice of allowing children to ride motorbikes is prevalent, especially in provinces. "Children ride them to school, for fun, or to run errands for their parents," he said.

Under Thai law, those who are 15 years old can get a driver's licence for vehicles with engines less than 110cc, but Dr Adisak said this is widely violated. CSIP said about 15,800 children get into motorcycle-related accidents annually, resulting in an estimated 700 deaths.

Reducing these numbers will take more than a road safety video.

The Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIPF) starts them young through the Street Wise Programme, which teaches schoolchildren the importance of wearing helmets. Thailand's helmet law is not strictly enforced, especially in provinces and among pillion riders.

During the United Nations' Global Road Safety Week earlier this month, AIPF joined other advocates in urging schools to include helmet wearing as part of the curriculum. "It is best to teach them about discipline while they are young," said AIPF country manager Oratai Junsuwanaruk. "Imagine, only 7 per cent of children who ride as passengers wear helmets."

The Tarc study cited lack of sleep, drink driving, ignorance of the law and speeding as the main causes of accidents. It said most motorbike deaths were due to fatal head injuries among pillion passengers. A 2013 survey showed only 19 per cent of pillion riders wore helmets, compared with 53 per cent of riders.

WHO's Dr Vedrasco said the government should pay attention to motorcycle riders.

"If you want to really save lives, do something about this risk group," he said. "Impose the helmet law strictly, and make them safer riders through more hours of training. Or, like in China, dedicate a special lane for them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Thailand: Deadliest country for motorcyclists'. Print Edition | Subscribe