Motorbike Safety in Thailand
By Brian S.
One of the most popular and economical ways to get around is via a motorbike. These two-wheeled conveyances are relatively inexpensive to buy or you can rent a motorbike either by the day, the week or the month. If you are not an experienced motorbike rider they can also be very, very dangerous, especially in a resort town like Pattaya.
According to statistics someone dies every 30 minutes as a result of a road accident in Thailand, causing some 38 fatalities per 100,000 annually. In a city like Pattaya, thats the equivalent of one death every three days or so. In general, the heaviest fatality rates occur between 6:00pm and 10:00pm when the roads are crowded with commuters returning from work. The late-night peak for road fatalities takes place between midnight and 1:00am, usually the result of drunk drivers.
In 2012, motorbikes outnumbered all other vehicles by almost two to one. Among the chief causes for road accidents were equipment failure, speeding, unsafe lane changing and driving too close. In addition, three other significant causes were not mentioned. First is the overall poor behaviour of drivers on the road. Second is the lax enforcement of Thai traffic regulations. Third is the prevailing mindset of many Thai drivers. According to a recent poll conducted at Assumption University in Bangkok, 26 percent of the survey group felt accidents could not be prevented and occurred only because the driver was “not lucky”.
If you dont ride a motorbike in your country, Thailand is not the place to learn. This is primarily because road safety standards are not high. Thailand has no organized program devoted to driving instruction or properly implementing road safety. Many bike riders and drivers take to the road without ever having passed the test for a driving license. In Pattaya the situation is exacerbated by thousands of tourists who, without ever previously sitting on a motorbike, decide this would be a terrific place to learn. If you insist on riding a motorbike, ease into it. Practice driving early in the morning on a quiet road or in an empty parking lot before you attempt racing across town during rush-hour traffic.
If you rent a motorbike check the bike thoroughly and read every word of the fine print in the contract. Most motorbike rental shops are honest. However, there are a number that perpetuate scams by renting out shoddy bikes and then claiming the renter damaged the bike. They then extort money from the hapless renter by withholding their passport. Inspect your bike and take photographs of even the slightest dings and scratches before taking it out of the shop. Most vendors require that you surrender your passport as security. Give them a copy of your passport and a larger cash or credit deposit instead. If they won’t accept this, find another rental company. In addition, most outfitters will rent out a motorbike whether you have a valid driver’s license or not. Don’t rent a bike unless you possess an international driving license or a driving license issued by a country that has a treaty with Thailand permitting mutual acceptance of driving licenses. If in doubt, check with your embassy. If you have an accident and do not hold a valid or acceptable driving license any insurance carried by the motorbike will be void and you will be responsible for all the damages and could be subject to criminal prosecution.
If you decide to invest in a motorbike, keep an eye on the tyre pressure and the wear to the tread. If you replace the narrow rear tyre with one that is wider, you will increase the control you have when braking and going around corners. Adding larger rear-view mirrors will enable you to better see what the drivers behind you are up to.
It’s against the law to ride a motorbike without a safety helmet. Even though that law is not always enforced, if you are caught without a helmet, officially the fine is 200 baht, but depending on the circumstances, it can be much higher. An accident at a speed of 24 kph (15mph) is fast enough to sustain a serious head injury. Motorbike passengers must also wear a safety helmet. As a responsible bike rider, you should never allow a passenger to ride without a helmet. A helmet with a face screen or safety glasses are recommended to keep sand, flying debris and errant insects out of your eyes when driving at speed. You’re going to lose some skin in any kind of a motorbike accident, but despite the heat, long sleeves and long trousers are a much better alternative to no sleeves and shorts when your flesh meets the road.
The most common injuries sustained in a motorbike accident are: head (20 percent), lower leg (17 percent), forearm (16 percent) and wrist and hand (16 percent).
Just In Case
Even though you probably won’t need them, it’s wise to program the phone numbers of the local police and ambulance service, emergency services (191), tourist police (1155) for English speaking assistance, motor vehicle insurance provider, and the number of a good lawyer who specializes in traffic accidents into your mobile phone.
Leave your Western expectations of driving standards behind; they simply don’t exist here. Always expect the unexpected. No matter how bad it may be, try to be patient and accepting of how Thai people drive, as you are the guest in their country. Don’t be surprised when a Thai smiles at you after nearly causing an accident. Remember that death smiles at us all. All one can do is smile back. If you’re prone to road-rage, whatever you do, don’t lose your temper. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that Thais drive like this every day. What’s horribly bad driving to you is normal to them. Bear in mind that Thais use their horns often, more as a warning. It’s rarely used to convey the message, Hey you moron, get out of my way! Instead it’s more of a courtesy signal alerting you to the fact that: I’m right next to you, beware or don’t pull out, I’m overtaking you. It’s just their way of letting you know they are there. Don’t be afraid to make use of your horn in a similar fashion.
Part two will conclude with a number of hints and tips, and dos and donts in respect to motorbike safety.