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Not the last tragedy

Publication Date : 21-02-2013


Roads in Thailand are perilous because of the widespread irresponsibility of Thai drivers; when will standards and laws be enforced to prevent unnecessary accidents and deaths?

It is tragic indeed that a planned round-the-world cycling odyssey by a British couple ended in their deaths because of the carelessness of an irresponsible driver in Thailand.

Peter Root and Mary Thompson, both 34, left Britain in July 2011 to cycle around the world. They passed through Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and China. The couple had just finished a trip to Cambodia and planned to go to New Zealand next.

However, their amazing journey ended in Thailand when Worapong Sangkawat, a 25-year-old truck driver, crashed into them in Chachoengsao province. The once-in-a-lifetime trip ended with the couple's bodies and their bicycles smashed on the roadside.

This is heartbreaking because the tragedy could have been avoided if only Worapong had not been so careless. Worapong was quoted by the police as saying he crashed into the cyclists as he was reaching down to pick up a phone. His reason shows gross irresponsibility and makes no sense - he should have stopped the truck first before trying to retrieve the phone. His reasoning cannot justify the accident.

The tragedy has brought the issue of road safety and accidents in Thailand to international attention. Associated Press quoted the father of Peter Root as saying that the couple spent six years planning and saving up for their amazing journey around the world. But their lives were taken in a careless moment.

The incident has made national headlines not only because the victims were foreigners, but also because it shows how Thai commuters are at high risk on the nation's roads. The death toll on the roads here over long weekends and during holiday periods is telling - and just as tragic. Several hundred people are killed or injured during Songkran and other holidays every year in spite of the annual campaigns for safety.

Some motorists are simply not qualified to drive. Some are under the influence of alcohol. Truck drivers regularly go without adequate sleep because they must complete numerous round trips per day, so they resort to stimulants to stay awake, further hampering their driving skills.

The penalties for drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs must be increased and enforced without hesitation. The issuance of driving licences should be stricter to ensure the recipients are qualified to get behind the wheel. Truck and bus drivers should undergo more stringent practical tests, as well as an additional one to ensure they are mature enough to be responsible for the lives of passengers.

Most importantly, motorists need to be made aware of the consequences of careless behaviour on the lives of others. Road accidents have become one of the top three public-health problems in Thailand. Several thousand people die and many more are injured on our roads every year. Many of these accidents could have been avoided if drivers were more sensible.

Thailand is a popular tourist destination, and the number of foreign visitors having accidents is increasing. As Assistant Professor Thaweesak Taekratok of the Crash Scene Investigation Project at Naresuan University has said: "They should know that travelling in Thailand is often different from their own countries." Indeed, it is time that all foreign tourists were informed frankly about the risks of travel in Thailand. And we also have to admit that road safety campaigns have been unsuccessful.

The tragedy of the British couple will fade from the international spotlight and from our memories. But without strong law enforcement and a serious campaign to instil a sense of responsibility in Thai drivers, the roads will continue to be highly dangerous and the deaths of the unfortunate couple will certainly not be the last.

Not only foreigners but countless Thais have lost their lives, or lost loved ones, because of accidents that could easily have been avoided. Imagine if Worapong, the driver, had decided to do the right thing and stop his vehicle before picking up his phone from the floor.


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