Motorbike Safety, part 2
By Brian S.
Safety should be at the forefront of your mind. Riding a motorbike in Thailand you must have the ability to look in every direction at the same time. You must have an understanding of how the Thai’s and some foreigners who have been here too long drive; understand how the locals follow and don’t follow the rules of the road; anticipate and be ready to react to any number of unexpected situations that under ordinary circumstances you’d rarely, if ever encounter in your home country.
With roughly 19 million motorbikes, 11 million automobiles and pick-up trucks, and an unknown number of commercial trucks, busses and taxis vying for space on the road network, having some degree of road sense from driving at home will be of benefit … but only slightly. For example, on local roads at any given moment you have to react to, and accommodate the random and often unexpected maneuvering of automobiles, other motorbikes, food carts, pedestrians, children, dogs, huge trucks, farm equipment, and errant snakes, elephants, water buffalos and other forms of wildlife that wander onto the road! You must be ever vigilant for poorly paved roads, deep potholes, unmarked and unguarded road construction, random debris and flooding. Traffic lights aren't always obeyed. Motorists drive on the wrong side of the street. Drivers suddenly stop and reverse to make a turn that they missed. Impulsive U-turns are not unusual. The biggest vehicle seems to have the right of way, regardless of what the rules are.
If it’s your first time driving a motorbike in Thailand, here are a few things that will help ensure that your riding experience remains incident free.
When you throw the consumption of alcohol into the already chaotic driving patterns of Thailand, you have a sure recipe for disaster. There are plenty of other Thais and foreigners who drink and drive, so leave the booze alone if you’re going to be riding your motorbike. Most alcohol related accidents take place between midnight and 3 am and there’s a sharp rise during national holidays. The legal blood limit for alcohol in Thailand is 0.5 grams of alcohol per litre of blood. If you've held your driving license for less than five years, the limit is 0.2 grams per litre of blood. Drivers caught over the legal limit are heavily fined or imprisoned. If you’re going to be doing any drinking, walk, stagger, take a taxi or have a non-drinking designated driver.
Go with the flow but be careful. Always check your blind spots before turning or maneuvering on the road. Keep your eyes moving left, right, up and down. Keep your head constantly swiveling and pay attention to your depth perception and your peripheral vision. Glance at everything quickly, don’t become fixated on just one object. While driving, place yourself as far away from anything dangerous as you can. That means curbs, the unpaved shoulder, other vehicles, as well as any wet or greasy spots. Never assume you can roll right over that plastic bag blowing across the highway. You don’t know what’s in it and it could puncture your tyre. Try to anticipate what the other drivers are doing and where they are going. Keep an eye on the front wheels of the vehicles on either side of you to see if they are turning. Always expect the unexpected and assume nothing. No matter where you go, expect car doors to open in your path. Expect unguarded road works and trenches without safety perimeters. Expect double and even triple parked cars and trucks on narrow city streets. Don’t be surprised when road workers or labourers suddenly move into the road or unwittingly swing their tools dangerously close to passing motorists.
Rules of the Road
Sadly, right of way means nothing. Here it’s more about survival of the fittest. Therefore, there’s never any assurance as to who is going to move first, so approach every junction with hesitancy and caution. Don’t move until you are sure the other driver will let you. Be very cautious of other drivers overtaking vehicles when moving around blind curves and roads with hills. If you see a vehicle rapidly approaching from behind, flashing their light or honking the horn, use common sense and move to the left and let them pass. No matter what the rules say, if they’re bigger than you, they think they have the right of way.
Remember not every Thai driver will stop for pedestrians. If you’re approaching a pedestrian crossing, where walkers are waiting to cross the road, check your rear view for vehicles travelling either too close or at speed that may not be able to stop. If you stop and they can’t, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what the result will be. On that note, you should always anticipate other drivers unexpectedly pulling out in front of you or the driver in front of you, causing them to brake quickly. So don’t tailgate, always keep your distance.
Pull over and rest whenever you’re sleepy or tired. Try to avoid driving late at night when there’s a greater risk of encountering drunk drivers. Don’t drive in unlit areas if you can help it. If you’re not familiar with an unlit or poorly-lit road, this can be dangerous as the road quality varies, especially when they’re unpaved. Go slow. Allow time to react in the event you encounter standing water, erosion, potholes, ruts, rockslides, fallen trees or man-made debris.
Highway safety standards to be similar to those in your own country.
Other drivers to always follow the rules of the road.
Other drivers to always look first before they pull out into oncoming traffic.
Other drivers to always indicate whether or not they are going to turn left or right before doing so.
Other drivers to always give any warning before they abruptly stop in the middle of the road to let a passenger on or off.
If you always expect the unexpected you’ll have a much greater chance of arriving at your destination safely.