Enforce traffic laws all year long
The reduction in Songkran road accidents should be duplicated
on the other days as well
It has become customary for the Road Safety Commission (RSC) to organise a public-awareness campaign and put in place all sorts of preventive measures for reducing the number of road fatalities during major holiday seasons. Judging from its performance these past few years, the RSC, working in cooperation with the national police, transport agencies, public-health authorities and local officials countrywide, has done a remarkable job.
The number of road accidents and resultant deaths and injuries during key public holidays like the just-concluded Songkran festival, along with property damage and medical expenses linked to the holiday carnage, has become significantly lower. Apparently, the RSC has found an effective solution to the country's high rate of traffic accidents, which are caused mostly by drunken driving and a failure to observe traffic laws.
The RSC reported that from April 7-16, when most people were travelling upcountry, a total of 5,327 road accidents causing 476 deaths were reported, compared with 5,652 accidents and 522 deaths for the same 10-day period last year.
As in previous years, this downward trend in road facilities was achieved thanks to the active participation and dedication of tens of thousands of police officers, transport officials and public-health workers who stayed on the job throughout Songkran while the rest of the country was celebrating.
Tens of thousands of roadside checkpoints were set up and random testing conducted on motorists, in order to make sure they strictly followed the law and did not drive under the influence.
Special attention was paid to motorcyclists, as they make up the overwhelming majority of victims maimed or killed in traffic accidents. Health statistics show that motorcyclists are 20 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than are people travelling in other types of vehicles. Not only are motorcycles more prone to losing their balance and falling, but also the two-wheelers' small size makes them difficult for other motorists to see and avoid.
Impressive though road-safety campaign during major holiday seasons may be, the country's total annual road fatalities remains a cause for concern, with the number of deaths swinging between 15,000 and 20,000 and some 100,000 injured or maimed. This is in addition to the untold number of personal tragedies of victims' relatives and an estimated Bt160 billion in economic losses.
Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana, vice chairman of the RSC, is right when he says a successful holiday campaign can serve as an example of how the authorities can successfully promote road safety on all of the other days of the year.
The question is how can such "extraordinary measures" be replicated and sustained for any length of time in day-to-day traffic enforcement outside of major public holidays like Songkran and New Year?
Unfortunately, we cannot realistically expect the same level of prevention and enforcement the rest of the year. Immediately after Songkran ended, traffic-law enforcement switched back to the lax manner in which it has always been enforced.
The underlying causes of our traffic woes in general and road casualties in particular are a general lack of respect for traffic laws and an unwillingness by police to enforce the same. Traffic violations, even drunk or reckless driving, continue to be regarded as minor offences and are commonly treated as such by law-enforcement personnel.
Even reckless drivers who cause death or grievous injury are routinely allowed to negotiate their way out of trouble and avoid punishment, provided they can afford sizeable compensation and perhaps big pay-offs for corrupt law enforcers. The best policy for ensuring road safety is strict and consistent enforcement of existing regulations, plus revision of relevant laws to provide for heavier penalties for drunk or reckless motorists, including mandatory jail terms.
Politicians find road-safety campaigns during the holidays an easy way to score political points, because success is quite predictable within a limited time frame and with the kind of manpower and resources at their disposal. But the public must demand the same level of attention on each of the other days, as well.