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The Reality of Road Accidents in Thailand

By
Thailand: 2009-11-11

I'm not even going to try and guess how many horrible road accidents I've seen since I started living in Thailand. Suffice it to say that it's a lot. Lets not beat about the bush, Thais are generally selfish drivers with little concept of road safety. Drinking and driving is socially acceptable. Drivers don't bother stopping for pedestrians, even at pedestrian crossings. Most people don't bother with motorcycle helmets. Driver training is very poor, where it even exists. Licenses are often issued to people that can barely change gear. Vehicle road worthiness tests are either cursory, or the results falsified. Many people drive at night with their headlights switched off in some misguided assumption it saves them fuel... That sets the scene...

The aim of this article is to give you a picture of what will happen to you if you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of a road accident here in Thailand. If you're inexperienced in Thai culture, you might find some of the things I write here hard to grasp or accept.

Thai Ambulance

Lets start with the ambulance service, or lack of. In most of the country, it's likely that the first emergency vehicle to arrive on the scene will be a privately operated pick up truck dressed up to look like an ambulance. They even have flashing coloured lights and 'paramedics' (for want of a better term) in jumpsuits... Now lets examine the reality of these so called ambulances...

They are commonly known as 'Body Snatchers'. They earned this derisory name for a variety of reasons. They are privately operated and supported by individual donors and contributions from the local business community, Buddhism leading the donors to believe they are earning themselves good karma as a result. The paramedics are actually volunteers, who also do the work for good karma. They have little, if any medical training...

As I said above, I have seen so many accidents here. If the medics are on the scene and the victim is alive, you will most likely see them trying to pull the victim to their feet (potential spinal injuries notwithstanding) and then shaking them vigorously to try and liven them up. It's a farcical, unprofessional, frightening thing to witness...

... and if you think that's bad enough, you might be horrified to learn that these medics sometimes get kickbacks from hospitals if they drive the victim to their emergency room (medical insurance is a lucrative business of course)... so you might end up going the scenic route for your life saving treatment.

A picture of your bloodied body might even end up on the ambulance volunteer promotional material, with the medics that tried to treat you pointing at you as they smile for the camera. This is not a joke by the way, it really happens.

Now lets talk about the scene of the accident itself. If you survived the initial impact, you will be disappointed to learn that no passers by or witnesses will come to your aid. You will be left laying in your own blood while the 'medics' race to be the first on the scene (competition for business) and no one will check your pulse or try to revive you if you are not breathing...

Why is this? There are so many complex reasons for this but in a nutshell, people just don't want to get involved. The instinct that westerners have to rush to the aid of a stranger is far weaker in Thai culture, especially if there is any potential for them being blamed for worsening the injuries, which leads to the next caveat...

Blame for the accident. The stories you hear of drunk, tired, or otherwise incompetent bus drivers (or similar) killing someone and then driving away from the scene aren't myths. If they fear they will be paying compensation for the rest of their lives, they will probably run if there are no witnesses... and if there is no one to see the accident, there are those that say the driver might even back over you to finish the job. Dead people don't need long term medical care. I wouldn't like to speculate on the likelihood of that happening.

Lets assume you survive and recover. As a foreigner, by default you will be at a disadvantage in the blame game. This is far too big a subject to cover here, as this article is only designed to draw a picture of the cold truth about the reality of accidents in Thailand. Wear a seatbelt. Wear your helmet. Purchase the best insurance. Defensive Driving should be your mantra whenever you're behind the wheel in Thailand...

Drive safe... because you really don't want to have an accident here.

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