Nearly every day in Chiang Mai the police set up a roadside block opposite Maya Shipping Centre to check motorbike riders for helmets and/or licences.
While checking the former is laudable, the latter has very little relevance to a rider’s competence and therefore does nothing for road safety. The roadblock involves no less than eight policemen plus two officers who sit at a desk writing tickets and collecting the loot. Meanwhile, in Nimmanhaemin Road, 50 metres away and Chiang Mai’s most popular precinct for Chinese tourists, there is no police presence whatsoever at any time. For example, shortly after 11pm every night a convoy of up to 50 motorbikes roars down Nimmanhaemin Road at excessive speed. Few riders wear helmets, many don’t have lights, some bikes are carrying three or even four people, and riders straddle the double lines. There’s not a cop to be seen.
The root cause of the dangerous roads situation throughout Thailand is not the fault of the riders and drivers. It’s the fault of the police for not enforcing the existing traffic rules. And let us not blame the foot soldiers, since they are just doing what they are instructed to do by their superiors. A government purge of the lazy, incompetent and often corrupt top cops is essential in making the roads safe for Thais and foreign tourists alike.
If government leaders aren’t seriously concerned about the unnecessary deaths and injuries to their own citizens, perhaps they might consider what impression Thailand’s chaotic kamikaze traffic is having on foreign visitors and, as a consequence, what it is costing the country in lost tourist revenue. The Tourist Authority needs to get involved in this and bring to bear on local government whatever influence they have.