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Why does Thailand have so many traffic deaths?


Why does Thailand have so many traffic deaths?

According to an article in Forbes Magazine in 2016, Thailand ranks #2 in traffic deaths globally just after #1 Libya and before #3 Malawi.  36.2 out of 100,000 people will lose their lives on Thai roads in any given year.  Why is that do you suppose?

I understand that war-torn Libya would be a dangerous place to be on the road.  And Malawi suffers from all kinds of problems from underdevelopment to civil war; one would expect getting behind the wheel of any type of conveyance hazardous.  But Thailand?  This is a civilized country with relatively good roads and nobody dropping bombs or mortar shells.

Perhaps the answer lies in the Thai people’s attitude towards life, death and danger.  Have you ever been out driving and seen a “near miss” incident involving Thais on motorbikes?  Two or more young Thais will come screaming down a narrow alley and burst onto a main thoroughfare without even glancing towards oncoming traffic.  After the blaring horn, screeching brakes and violet swerve to avoid certain death, all passengers on the motorbike will be smiling and laughing like idiots.  It’s as if to say, “Ahhhh, what a lucky day for me”.  They are aware they’ve just cheated death, but they are unfazed.  It will not change their behavior in the slightest.

Is it that they do not fear death?  Maybe.  Most Thais believe in reincarnation as part of the Buddhist religion. Perhaps their reasoning is, “My life’s not so great anyway.  Why not see what’s next?”  Is it that they don’t think about the future?  Maybe.  Living in the moment is also part of their culture.  Considering consequences of one’s actions is not a deeply ingrained concept.

But maybe it is something a little more scientific than their attitude.  The fact that more than half of the world’s traffic deaths involve motorcycles probably hikes up their statistics quite a bit.  Since the motorbike is the number one choice of transportation for most Thais, and they will pile as many as six individuals on one set of two wheels surely affects the numbers.

Not to mention the overcrowding of other vehicular modes like pick-up trucks and songtaews (baht buses).  Ever see a songtaew wreck?  It looks like a plane crash with mangled bodies strewn everywhere.  One crash could easily net 10 deaths.

Finally, I think a fair share of deaths attributed to traffic accidents involve situations like the one we see in this picture.  What chance is this genius going to have of living if this truck full of sharp angle iron suddenly gets T-boned by a speeding SUV?  They’d need a plastic bag to carrying him away from the scene.  For sure every old-timer expat in Thailand can look at this picture and relate a similar story of Thai people’s dare-devil proclivities.

So why are there so many traffic deaths in Thailand every year?  Two words:  Thai people.

Orlando Barton

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