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With commitment from all, we can bring Songkran road toll down
Publication Date : 19-04-2014
Songkran has just ended. The water-splashing festival is associated not only with celebrating Thai New Year, but also with a dramatic rise in the number of road accidents. While complete official accident statistics are not yet available, it appears unlikely that the death and injury tolls will drop this year, as some agencies had expected.
While it is true that the number of accidents shoot up partly because there are more people on the roads during the long holiday, these tragedies are preventable.
Since 2005, the country has recorded as many as 100,000-120,000 accidents per full year, with about 13,000 people killed and up to 10,000 injured. The economic losses from road deaths amount to 232 billion baht (US$7.19 billion) per year, equivalent to 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product, according to Prince of Songkla University's studies.
The studies show that reducing traffic accidents not only saves lives, but also reduces unnecessary losses to the state. Each fatal crash costs up to 5.3 million baht ($164,000) on average, while accidents involving disabilities lead to 6.2 million baht ($192,000) in damages for each person.
Over the past 10 years, although several agencies have staged well-run campaigns to reduce road accidents, they have had limited success in cutting the number of casualties. In fact, the figures have skyrocketed. The state campaigns are often criticised as not attacking the root causes of the problem.
It is a shame that the state agencies have not taken a leading role in solving this problem. The private sector, in fact, has been at the forefront in initiating measures to solve the problems.
Reducing the number of traffic accidents would not be an uphill battle if all parties seriously addressed the problem and adopted safe and correct practices.
The No 1 reason for road accidents is motorists' failure to abide by traffic laws, followed by lax law enforcement by police, who are inclined not to treat rules as sacrosanct. As a result, motorists have no respect for the law. Given these two reasons, it is not surprising that we have seen a dramatic rise in road crashes.
In Western nations such as the United States and European countries, police strictly enforce traffic laws and apply them to every single citizen without leniency. The living testimony to that are the occasional news reports of world-class sportsmen, stars and celebrities being arrested and detained on charges of driving under the influence.
Some may argue that our country's traffic laws are outdated, and that is why they are not effective. Therefore, this argument goes, we should never compare our traffic laws with those in Western countries. But the fact is that strict law enforcement actually makes motorists comply with the rules. If law enforcers carry out their duty strictly, honestly and in a straightforward manner, that will be enough to stop motorists breaking the laws.
In our country, traffic police act like pine trees bending in the wind. A "Zero Death Songkran" campaign would be achievable with contributions from every driver and every sector concerned to help carry out their roles and responsibilities to the best of their ability. It is simply a matter of whether everyone will display total commitment to help reduce the number of road accidents.