Driving in Thailand is an experience – a bit like the atomic accelerator – vehicles moving around in an apparent haphazard state but somehow surviving.
3 years ago I decided to get my Thai partner a driving license. Automatic transmission.
She was registered in a Thai Driving School on Pattaya Klang.
Total cost 15,000 Baht for about 40 hours. After about 20 lessons there was an option that if she failed she could continue with further ‘complimentary’ lessons until she successfully passed. Obviously they only make that offer if they have confidence in the student.
From the very beginning her driving lessons were on the open road dealing with traffic on Pattaya Tai, Klang and Nua.
She had to drive and park in places like Soi Bukhouw and also on Sukhumvit.
To supplement her lessons we would go to the local Wat and practice. Their Car Park was marked with white lines, for parking, so we just imagined different lanes. Drive down, indicate, turn and drive back.
She learned very quickly and became very competent. In fact so competent am happy to be a passenger.
Previously she used to say ‘why you get hot heart when you drive’. Now she gets hot heart and complains about the terrible driving.
The main problem seems to be lack of MIM – Mirror, Indicate, Maneuver – oh and then cancel the indicator. The number of times a motorbike has left his turn signal on turn left and then turns right…..
The day came to sit her test. She passed the actual driving test with flying colours. She failed the written question test a couple of times but eventually reached the required score. Many of the 50 questions were ambiguous but the minimum score had to be achieved. No bribes….
The ACTUAL test was a farce and basically in a Car Park with traffic cones. No lanes. No traffic. No other vehicles. No test on the open road so no test of ‘road-craft’. The parking test was laughable you could have parked a juggernaut in the coned space and many failed that.
Some applicants arrived in pick-ups, fail and then drive home, to try another day.
Minimum legal Car Insurance in Thailand is about 600 Baht per year. It is so basic as to be useless. Proper Class 1 comprehensive insurance, for a medium size car, is about 15,000 per year.
Having been rear-ended twice, on both occasions, my insurance company paid because the offending driver only had basic government insurance.
The death Toll in Thailand could be drastically reduced by ensuring the actual test is on the open road dealing with normal daily experiences. Other drivers, lane control, lights, indicating……etc. Just like most other countries.
A full driving license is issued, after a 1 or 2 year preliminary probationary license, for 5 years.
My recommendation would be to address the root cause of the problem.
ALL drivers would need to sit an actual Road Test at their next 5 year renewal. Fail and license suspended – Cars and Motorbikes and especially Mini Vans. The government would earn more revenue and reduce accidents.
Of course this will not happen as the lessons cost more than a local can reasonably afford.
What a business opportunity – the government could set up Test Schools and improve the quality of driving and reduce the atrocious death toll.
Start with kids at school – mandatory lessons. Hopefully as they get older and migrate to a pick-up they have some basic road craft.
To be ranked as the 2nd worst country, in the world, for traffic deaths is a total embarrassment and nobody attempts to fix the root cause.
We regularly pass a School in Naklua. The police are in attendance helping the students on Motorbikes leave the school. 3 or 4 on one bike. No helmets, riding under age. Insanity. The schools should be running classes, with the police, for the children on safety.
In my local village there is a large market.
Watching people try to park is akin to watching a cartoon. No concern for other users. Blocking exits. Taking up 2 spaces, double parking…..one afternoon I watched a middle aged lady on her motorbike. She was using her phone. She ran into the back of a parked car. She was not hurt just shocked – she never let go of the phone. Unbelievable. The villagers applauded……
Until they take Driving schools, and the Driving Test, seriously there will be no improvement.
Policing people, who have embedded poor driving skills, is not going to improve overall standards.
Has the clamp down on helmets made any real difference over the last X years?
Sitting at a set of lights the motorbikes always weave their way to the front – still 50% do not wear helmets.
One observation, including my partner, is that they do not look, plan nor think ahead.
It occurred to me that 99.9% of Thais first take to the road on a motorbike.
In the West most people do not start to drive with a motorbike.
When I drive my motorbike I now tend to only look 4 or 5 meters ahead – looking out for debris, potholes, in one case a monitor lizard etc. If I see a pothole I just make a small swerve to avoid it – on a motorbike the footprint is small but in a car such a maneuver is crazy.
If I need to pass a parked vehicle or obstruction, on a motorbike, that change of lane is minor and probably will not significantly disrupt the other traffic. That same change of lane, in a car, requires planning and looking out for the faster moving traffic on the driver’s right.
So the need to train motorcyclists is critical to any improvement. A motorbike is more nimble but those same maneuvers in a car are inviting an accident.
Driving a car and only looking 4 to 5 meters ahead is dangerous and does not allow sufficient time to make a maneuver.
If you see a driver indicating to turn right up front then the natural maneuver is to indicate left and merge well in advance.
If delayed to the last minute then that change of direction is less easy.
Another inherited bad habit, from learning to drive on a motorbike, is at major intersections.
Normally there is either 1 or 2 lanes for traffic to make a right turn when the lights change.
Drivers of pick-ups think nothing of creating an extra lane by driving up the left side of the waiting traffic – because that is what they do on a motorbike.
The Yellow ‘Checker’ pattern at these intersections is also for a reason – allowing oncoming traffic clear passage to make their turn. Motorbikes can wriggle around to make room as required – a pick-up cannot.
Finally. Maintenance. Or lack thereof. The number of motorbikes that have no working rear bulb is staggering. So issue police with a screwdriver and spare bulbs.
They haul the offender over and charge them for the service to replace the bulb. The rider may not even be aware the bulb is blown. A bulb is 50 Baht so police charge 100 Baht knowing that that motorbike is now visible.
Pro-active and not reactive.