Thai Roadkill: No More Half Measures

Emergency responders examine a van wrecked in a collision in June 2017 in Sa Kaeo province that killed five.
Emergency responders examine a van wrecked in a collision in June 2017 in Sa Kaeo province that killed five.

Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukStatistics be damned. Every New Year and Songkran are the final holiday for the 400-or-so people who die on the roads.

This Songkran saw 418 people killed during the period dubbed the “seven dangerous days.” Though not the decade high of 442 recorded in 2016, it was still higher than the 390 deaths of last year.

Behind those stats are the family members and loved ones left behind with emotional and financial consequences. If those killed are breadwinners, it will be taxing to those left behind.

Suffice to say, the loss is not just the lives of those killed and nearly four thousands injured, but it affects the hearts of those left behind and places more burden on the general economy.

Thailand ranked among the world’s worst in human roadkill, according to the World Health Organization. A 2015 study found 66 killed each day on average, based on the year’s toll of about 24,000 fatalities. That’s a daily average six deaths higher than this past week, yet still we obsess over the “dangerous days.”

The failure to address this enormous loss is a collective failure of society and making it better is up to no single actor. There are many things that can and should be done beyond empty vows and misguided marketing campaigns.

Let’s start in the media by being equally shrill year-round instead of just the headline-ready, biannual “dangerous days” holidays.

With motorcycles involved in an estimated 80 percent of wrecks, even more stringent license requirements should be a priority.

Risky road spots should be marked, studied and made safer by dedicated teams of multidisciplinary professionals.

Higher penalties for both speeding and drunk driving should be introduced – and enforced, as should not wearing a helmet.

The government should send staff to learn from countries with much better road safety and return with some concrete plans to implement.

The extent of loss must be made fully aware at schools so children can grow up understanding the magnitude of the issue.

Perhaps a special agency or new department should be created with the singular goal of reducing fatalities and injuries. It can be named Department or Agency for the Reduction of Road Deaths and Injuries. This state organization should be empowered to seek cooperation from other agencies and partner with civil society and the private sector in a relentless, daily campaign.

Too many people are killed and the fact that Thailand is ranked at the bottom is a reminder of how our society has failed to manage not just traffic but the personal discipline of its citizens.

Paying attention to the issue only during New Year and Songkran no longer suffice. It’s time to make the issue a national priority that will be discussed, monitored and addressed on a daily basis with citizen participation.