Court judges, not police officers, will determine the punishment for people caught driving without required licences, the police and Department of Land Transport (DLT) affirmed on Friday.
The authorities were responding to public concerns that a new regime of hefty fine increases and longer prison terms for motorists without licences would enable rogue traffic cops to prey on motorists. New fines of Bt10,000 to Bt50,000 and prison terms of up to five years – depending on the violation – will be sharply increased from previous penalties.
The tougher penalties raise the crimes above the standard of a petty offences and so out of the jurisdiction of police and into the hands of the courts, explained Pol Maj-General Ekkarat Limsangkat, commander of the Special Police Branch’s division 3, in a press conference.
If these proposed legal changes go into effect, the charge of driving without a licence will no longer be a petty offence, for which police can impose a fine.
Under the new regulations, officers will have to file the case in court and a judge will use his or her discretion to hand down punishment.
“The old laws that let police impose fines on drivers without licences over the past 39 years have never been effective in changing driving behaviour,” said Ekkarat. The number of people driving without a licence has only increased, as have road accidents, he noted.
Since police will no longer have the authority to fine violators, there will also be fewer rogue police officers preying on motorists, he said. In any case, he added, the Royal Thai Police (RTP) will not protect any bribe-collecting or corrupt officers and will subject them to the appropriate disciplinary and criminal code punishments.
DLT deputy director-general Kamol Buranapong said the proposed amendments would combine and update outdated laws under the Vehicle Act 1979 and the Land Transport Act 1979.
He said the old laws had set the fine rates quite high for the time they were implemented nearly 40 years ago – as is the case in other countries. It is common for countries to also have a process of keeping score related to driving behaviour, along with vehicle seizures and imprisonment for violations.
Kamol cited statistics by related agencies, including the Academic Centre for Road Safety and the Thailand Accident Research Centre, that found up to 8 million motorists and motorcyclists on Thailand’s roads drove without a licences.
Moreover, the average age at which Thais first ride motorcycles was nine, and because most are taught by family members or close acquaintances, and they often lack accurate knowledge and proper driving skills, he said.
According to DLT regulations, those aged 18 and above can get a driver’s licence to drive a motorcycle or car, and those over 15 may get a temporary licence to ride a motorcycle with a 110cc or less engine.
Citing road-accident statistics, Kamol noted that nearly 60 per cent of motorists in a crash did not have or did not carry a driver’s licence. Those without a licence were found to have double the risk of an accident, and many were under 24 years old.
The statistics clearly point to the need to implement strict driving licence-related laws to boost road safety and promote motorists’ discipline, he said.
The DLT aimed to live by the motto: “Difficult to issue, easy to confiscate”.
Kamol said the proposal was now before the Secretariat of the Cabinet which will then forward it to the National Legislative Assembly for approval.
A report outlining opinions expressed on social media about the proposed laws was also attached.
If the amended law is approved, it will be published in the Royal Gazette and come into effect one year after the publication date, giving people lots of time to get educated about the changes, he said.
Another speaker, police deputy spokesman Pol Colonel Krissana Patanacharoen said the RTP had since August 21 applied the requirement that police officers staffing checkpoints carry an ID card. They are also not permitted to wear facemasks or sunglasses when presenting themselves to search vehicles or talking with people.