All accidents are tragic, no matter who the victims are
Inconsistent outrage and ‘seasonal’ law enforcement must end
Traffic tragedies that always make headlines have one thing in common. They usually involve victims that break our hearts, be it youngsters with bright futures, celebrities who should not have been there, or newly-wed couples on their honeymoon. Every time such an accident happens, everyone is jolted into condemnation and promises of a reform normally follow. When the uproar dies, so does the “resolve” to never let it take place every again.
This is why Thailand suffers such consistent carnage when campaigns against road accidents occur. The authorities have never made law enforcement a routine thing because officials only enforce the law strictly on a “seasonal” basis, like during the New Year or Songkran. Helmets are worn only when and where police are watching. Traffic “rules” only exist when the hands of the law reach.
The current campaign against public transport vans – their conditions, their drivers and all the risky practices – displays every characteristic of Thailand’s typical knee-jerk reaction after a serious accident. Everything about the campaign will become lax very soon when anger and grief subside and reporters take their eyes of the subject. It will begin all over again when a similar tragedy happens.
The challenge is not how to make vans safe. The challenge is how can we make social awareness an ever-present thing with law enforcement that is consistent, transparent and fair. Apart from seasonal campaigns that characterise the country’s road safety efforts, a negative factor is legal privileges enjoyed by the rich and famous. Privileged people are helped by corrupt law enforcement officials and are rarely punished for causing big accidents, let alone relatively minor ones.
One thing that needs to be instilled into the national psyche is that all accidents are tragic, no matter who the victims are. Without this mindset, our safety campaigns will remain selective, inconsistent and ultimately unfair. Some people will continue to fear the law while others won’t. Law enforcement officials will only focus their attention on what politicians or the media are interested in. Society, meanwhile, will remain largely hypocritical.
Whether it’s a college youngster with a bright future or a nameless rural kid who dies, the death or injury must be taken equally seriously. Whether the driver is a poor, drunken man or a wealthy heir of a big business mogul, the punishment and legal process must be straightforward and equal. Unless this key issue is sorted out, Thailand’s road safety campaigns will never truly succeed.
Preventable tragedies feed off corrupt law enforcement and a hypocritical or inconsistent society. And corruption among law enforcement officials and social hypocrisy feed off each other. One thing that can prevail over the problems is the belief that all accidents are tragic.
The trick is how to really believe so. It’s easier said than done, obviously, but failure to really believe this has cost many lives and is at the root of our problem. Social media outrage can be a double-edged sword, because it can force everyone to act fast in the wake of an accident but it is also short-lived, so it can encourage many in the wrong to just lie low and buy time. Another shortcoming of social media is the fact that too many low-profile accidents occur without getting any publicity – off the radar.
Only when the death of an unknown man spurs community and law enforcement officials into the same fervour as that caused by the “famous” or “deplorable” death can we begin to really have hope.