Highway Mayhem – A View From Two Wheels

©Dan White. No repro of words or pictures without authorisation.

The roads in Thailand may be good, but sadly they are also lethal. With some of the highest accident statistics in the world, you don’t have to spend long riding them on two wheels, to realise that there is something seriously amiss.

When it comes to driving in Thailand it is time to ritually fling the rulebook from the rear window of a fast-moving Totoya Corolla whilst veering lazily between lanes and ignoring anything resembling traffic lights. Driving in Thailand requires not only new definitions, it also requires nerves of steel and healthy faith in the unalterable truth of karmic destiny. Often described as ‘exciting’, the exhilaration of Thailand’s bustling pavements can soon transform into something suicidal if you step off the curb, into your vehicle and head out onto the open highway.

It is no patronising condemnation of Thailand to point to the lunacy on the roads. Thai people do it themselves and the sad fact is that some of the worst offenders are farangs who having spent years in their own countries shackled by observation of the highway code and a very real fear of penury or arrest. They come to the land of similes seemingly determined to systematically break every rule of the road, not to mention contravening something as obviously idiotic as basic common sense. The likelihood is that, when in Chonburi or Chiang Mai, the guy who just cut you up in the pickup, drifted into your lane without indicating or simply went smack into the back of your vehicle, hails from Sweden, Germany or Wales. When being confronted with the fact that he is a child-murderer waiting to be, he will simply look gormless as he adjusts his grubby singlet, sinks into his acrylic, supermarket-socks and says, “Hey this is Thailand! Jah! Same-same free!”….. Same, same ‘tosser’ is what he actually meant.

The Thai Government is justifiably worried sick about road safety. With between 12,000 and 17,000 fatalities annually accidents cost Thailand a staggering 2.1% total of GDP. Road accidents are now the third leading cause of death after AIDS and heart attacks, according to the country’s Ministry of Public Health.

It is worth examining some of the more truly surreal habits of the highways. First of all tailgating. This is where drivers speed along winding mountain roads at 120mph leaving only 15cm of room between their front bumper and the boot of the car behind. It is as close to arriving at a mobile analogy for true stupidity as it is possible to find. What is the point? It is hardly an aid to overtaking on the straight. When taking the fast single lane highways between Tak and Mae Sot, up to Erewan Falls or south of Hua Hin one sees vast, pointless centipede formations of tailgating vehicles all proving once and for all everything that Peter Purves of Blue Peter fame told us in 1978, “Only a fool breaks the two second rule,”……. The fool quotient seems staggeringly high anywhere people are allowed to pick up speed. This is compounded by the fact that only 15% of road users actually bother to, “clunk click every trip.”  If Jimmy Savile had ever actually been a human being, it might have made him weep.

Pulling out from the left into oncoming traffic without bothering to look right or simply to make a point about the fact that my car is more expensive than your car is a nationwide pass time particularly prevalent in Bangkok where car-status rivalry has transformed from a smattering of average snobbery into a menacing, rabid and untamed cult sweeping through the Central Business District from Sathorn to Ekkamai. Motorcycles don’t even count.

All this applies even more to overtaking. Any driver of something German (especially if they are German) and excessively shiny will see it as nothing less than an affront to his manhood to see anything Japanese and slightly grubby attempting to take up lane space ahead. If the grubby Japanese thing has only two wheels the fury of the man with the fat bank account will explode into a crescendo of indignant horn honking. Wealth is no barrier to automotive idiocy.

Lane discipline itself is simply seen by drivers as a provocation not to indicate. And of course driving the wrong way up the highway with an assortment of bikes, trolleys and worn out trucks is actually considered an obligation of road use in certain rural areas.

Remember all these manouvres – and many more – are best accomplished whilst having an aimless chat on your mobile-phone about things far less trivial than annhilation by impact-injury, as you balletically drift across lanes and mow down the entire family on the knackered Honda wave going the wrong way up the bus lane beside you…. thereby killing them all instantly. Hurrah!… Don’t worry. None of them were wearing helmets in any case.

Of course this whole lethal dance comes to a head in a water-drenched blood-bath of mobile inanity during spring’s Songkran festival when people celebrate the coming new year by killing each other in vast numbers in the name of fun. It didn’t use to be like this. These days how could anyone spoil the party by thinking that flinging a bucket of water from a fast-moving pick-up at an oncoming drunken motorcyclist doing 90mph is anything other than ‘sanuk’? Silly me!… Fun! Fun!  Fun is Songkran! My how he will laugh as his head gets crushed by a passing truck!