Cars are incredibly dangerous. Every year, over 1.3 million people die in car related crashes around the world, with an addition 20 to 50 million injuries or disabilities resulting from auto collisions. In a dangerous world, traffic and road related accidents rank as the 9th leading cause of death, making up around 2.2% of all deaths worldwide. Most of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries in the developing world, where infrastructure is often lacking, cars are typically antiquated, yet the number of cars on the road and the miles travelled continues to go up. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, if no action is taken by governments, traffic accidents will become the fifth leading cause of death worldwide by 2030, just 15 years from today.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that has visited Thailand that a recent UN study on automotive safety has determined that the country has the 2nd deadliest roads in the entire world. The 2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety notes that 14,059 people were killed on Thai roads in 2012, a rate of 36.2 casualties per 100,000 people. The only country that ranked ahead of Thailand in the study was Lybia, with a death rate of 73.4 per 100,000 residents. Making matters worse, the UN concluded that Thailand regularly under reports road related fatalities due to a lax approach to record keeping and decentralized enforcement. According to WHO, the Public Health Ministry in Thailand understates road fatalities by 42%.
Thailand lacks some basic road safety measures found in many other countries, including in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. For example, Thailand does not have a child restraint or child safety seat requirement, nor a universal seat belt law. New road projects are rarely subjected to safety reviews and audits, and contractors often cut corners to save money on materials. A recently constructed road in the town of Pattaya, which was supposed to separate pedestrians from cars, tuk tuks, and motorbikes, only made the problem worse as the lack of sufficient curb space only encouraged motorbikes to go up on the part of the street that was designed to serve pedestrians. This has already resulted in fatalities for drivers, pedestrians, and even roadside merchants with stands along highways.
The heavy use of motorbikes is also a problem. The mode of transportation is increasingly convenient as roads become more and more congested. In addition, motor bikes are a staple of Thai culture which prides itself on efficient, low cost transportation options. Nevertheless, they present a far greater risk of fatality to drivers than cars, buses, and even tuk tuks. Tourists in popular destinations like Koh Samui are frequently allowed to rent motor bikes with minimal knowledge of the rules of the road and a complete lack of training.
In addition, road and safety rules are rarely enforced, even with increasing government scrutiny. For example, the national drunk driving limit of 0.05 is lower than in most US states, but is rarely enforced.