Driving licence uproar unmasks character flaws

opinion August 27, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

As long as we as a society tend to shun the rules, the roads will never be safe



The new traffic law has not even been enforced yet but has already exposed at least three woeful habits among Thais. 

The law will require every motorist to have a valid licence at hand while on the road. If you can’t produce one, you could be fined up to Bt50,000 and maybe even go to jail. 

The fine at least should seem reasonable, but the social media are in uproar at the possibility of rising police corruption. The cops do take bribes and that’s an awful practice. 

Citizens tend to disregard the law when they think they can get away with it, and that too is a terrible but all-too-common trait. The third flaw revealed in our national character is the tendency to attempt unsystematic legal solutions. 

The proposed law boosts the top-level fine for being unable to produce a driver’s licence to Bt10,000 from Bt1,000. 

If your licence is expired or been revoked or suspended, the penalty is up to three months in prison and a Bt50,000 fine. (The policymakers believe the word “maximum” allows for leniency.)

The public’s concern that police could demand bribes from drivers who cannot produce a licence stems from the common perception that cops are corrupt and opportunistic. Whenever a new law involving public order has been proposed, one of the chief criticisms is that it will give the law enforcers more opportunities to collect bribes. But police officers couldn’t demand bribes if people were obeying the law in the first place. 

And there is no denying the wisdom of a law requiring that a valid driver’s licence be ready to show police on request. It’s a means of protecting public safety. No one needs fret if they’ve forgotten their wallet at home and that’s where the licence is. The punishment is unlikely to be applied as long as they can produce the licence soon, for the cop who pulled them over or at a police station somewhere.

Bribery feeds on the tendency to disregard the law. 

The outcry about police corruption can be traced to the typical Thai habits of driving without a licence, buying cars for underage youths, perhaps as a reward, and ignoring the rules that apply once a licence is seized or suspended. The proposed heavier penalties would of course hit underprivileged people worst, and sometimes they do need to drive without a licence. For them, Bt10,000 could but several months’ supply of food, and it is they who are the most susceptible to abuse by dishonest policemen. 

This brings us the third nasty habit we share and underscores the need for multiple aspects of society to be revamped, most notably the justice system and our public transport network with its grave shortfalls.

In a fair and efficient society, anyone anywhere should be able to get a driving licence quickly and either free of charge or at minimal cost. When the procedure is slow and difficult, involving considerable time and challenging tests, the result will be an enormous number of people driving illegally, many of them too poor in time and money to find an alternative.

Effective solutions are possible. But the requirements are daunting. It would take understanding and vision among policymakers and changes in social attitudes regarding safety and public order.