Thailand now has the deadliest road traffic in the world, overtaking Libya. Why is that? As a retired Swedish motor journalist I made a small unscientific survey and I think I may have the answer.
I placed myself at the busy Soi Arunotai, which passes a large school, in central Pattaya during rush hour (4pm-5pm) on Monday.
Since motorbikes account for two-thirds of vehicles and 80 per cent of road fatalities in Thailand, I counted all motorbike riders, passengers and sidecar passengers who were wearing a helmet with strap fastened.
Separately, I counted substandard and loosely fastened helmets – plastic shells and cycle helmets.
I also counted those wearing unfastened helmets – which are useless as they fly off in an accident.
Lastly, I counted bike riders who wore no helmets, including child pillion passengers for whom helmet-wearing is, absurdly, not mandatory.
During that hour 1,842 motorbike riders and passengers passed. 738 (40 per cent) were wearing a fastened helmet. 54 (3 per cent) were riding with an unfastened helmet. 1,050 (57 per cent) were riding without a helmet.
That means 60 per cent of them (1,104 riders during one hour) were riding without proper helmet protection. Even more had poor protection with loosely fastened, unapproved helmets.
You can break your arms, legs and even back and still survive a road accident. But if you break your skull you will likely die or be brain dead.
The main problem for Thai traffic is not minivans or pickups carrying passengers at the back. It is the millions of motorbike riders who drive without proper helmet protection every day.
Every year about 22,000 people die in Thai traffic (61 per day). And those figures only include the ones who die at the accident site, not in the ambulance or hospital afterwards.
That is not only a personal tragedy but also an economic catastrophe for Thailand, as every life is worth Bt10 million for society.
So what to do? The solution is easy since wearing a helmet is already mandatory by law! Just enforce the law and make helmet-wearing mandatory for children on bikes. With time social attitudes will change towards protection.
By strictly enforcing the law that all motorbike riders/passengers wear properly fastened and approved helmets, road deaths among this group could be cut by half.
That would save 10,000 lives and Bt100 billion every year. Time to act, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha!
Pete the Swede