Traffic in Thailand and Road Safety
Road safety awareness in Thailand and the differences in how traffic in Thailand behaves compared to habits and laws you are used to in your home country should not be ignored or taken lightly. Sadly, the Thailand road accident statistics do not make for great reading. Still, many issues presented to tourists and holidaymakers can be easily avoided by applying basic principles and accepting that things work differently here! Here we outline several critical points to know and remember for pedestrians and those who plan to rent a motorbike or scooter in Thailand. Keep this advice with you at all times, and you’ll enjoy an incident-free time in the ‘Land of Smiles’.
Thailand ranks as one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. With its profound cultural heritage, stunning and diverse natural beauty, tropical sunshine, and well-established tourism infrastructure, it’s no surprise that so many choose this Southeast Asian nation for their dream vacation. For the most part, these holidays are a fantastic experience and problem-free, but all visitors should make considerations during their stay to remain safe and make the most of their time – not least of these is Road Safety in Thailand!
Pedestrian Safety in Thailand
Pavements and sidewalks can present a few challenges, as walkways are often uneven and need some maintenance. Careful footing – particularly in low-lit areas at night – will help to avoid any unnecessary twisted ankles.
More importantly, the area to be most aware of is when crossing the road. Although you will find pedestrian crossings in every town and village, please practice the following points every time you cross the road:
- NEVER assume vehicles will stop for you, even if the lights are red. Motorbikes are likely to continue at minor junctions and pedestrian crossings, even though they are technically required to stop.
- We drive on the left-hand side of the road in Thailand, so remember to look right before stepping off the kerb. With that said, you should ALWAYS look both ways; it is a common practice for motorbikes (and even cars and trucks) to take shortcuts by driving up the wrong side of the road to save time.
- NEVER wait in the middle of the road or partway across a highway lane. ALWAYS take your time and wait for both directions of traffic to clear before proceeding. Hand signalling a driver to stop and let you cross is unlikely to slow them, let alone make them give way! Cars, trucks, and motorcycles will undertake each other if a left-hand lane is available. By remaining on the road and allowing a vehicle to pass, you will expose yourself to the risk of being in another vehicle’s blind spot as they make this manoeuvre.
These suggestions may feel like advice for a 5-year-old, but they are relevant, and you should take them seriously no matter what age. Thailand is the perfect place to relax, unwind, and forget about your working life for a week or two, but familiar, day-to-day actions such as crossing the road can have unwanted surprises if you are not mindful.
Motorbike Safety Advice in Thailand
Although many will disagree, hiring a motorbike in Thailand should only be done if you have experience and are legally allowed to ride one in your home country! If you love the idea of freely exploring the area in which you are staying, then you should plan to complete some fundamental rider training and get some decent riding hours behind you before coming on holiday.
Here is some important information you should know before hiring a bike in Thailand:
- If you are not legally licensed to ride a motorcycle or scooter in your home country, you are not legally licensed in Thailand.
- Driving any motored road vehicle in Thailand requires you also to have an International Driving Permit. You are responsible for having the proper legal documentation before heading out on the road. Rental shops will rarely check to see if you have the correct licence.
- Check your travel insurance cover before hiring. Most policies do not cover motorcycles unless specified.
- Helmets are compulsory. Although locals will often be seen to ignore this law, all motorcyclists run the risk of being fined if stopped by the police. However, there is a far greater concern if you fall from your bike. Wear a helmet as you would at home!
- NEVER hand over your passport as security when renting a motorcycle. The renter should take a photocopy, but do not let them keep hold of your original documentation during the rental period. If the renter insists, then walk away and rent elsewhere.
- Check the bike thoroughly before renting. Check that the brakes, throttle, tires, and lights are all in good order before your drive off. It is also good to check with the renter how the steering lock works and how to refill the gas – some can be tricky to work out if you are unfamiliar with the make and model of the bike.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Long trousers instead of shorts, trainers instead of flip-flops can make a difference in minor accidents.
- Most rental step-through scooters are 125cc or more, whereas mopeds back home are typically no more than 50cc. The 100+ kph these bikes are capable of is much faster than the 40-50 kph most mopeds can achieve back home. The difference is a significant performance increase, so be careful and aware of this when pulling away for the first time and when at cruising speed.
General Advice for Driving Safely on Thailand’s Roads
As with the UK, and many former British colonies, we drive on the left-hand side of the road. Road signs are primarily written in Thai and English, especially in towns and tourist areas, which makes navigating relatively straightforward. Google Maps is helpful if your cell phone has a data connection. Roads are usually in good condition, but there can be a few new hazards to be mindful of as you make your way around. Stray dogs wandering across the road, drivers tailgating or undertaking in the left lane, drivers overtaking on blind corners or hills, and the chance of a tropical downpour are all excellent reasons to keep a sharp eye on what is going on around you and never to be complacent.
An important point to be aware of is the purpose of flashing your headlights. In Europe, a quick flash of the highlights would indicate the driver will kindly give way to you and let you through first. In Thailand, however, this means the opposite! If an oncoming vehicle is flashing its headlights at you, then understand this as;
“I’m coming through; get out of my way!”
All these points do make the thought of driving in Thailand somewhat off-putting. But in reality, a steady, calm and mindful approach to the roads and their users will keep you safe and allow you to enjoy the scenery and explore this magical kingdom so much more during your stay. Look out as you might meet elephants, water buffalos, snakes, and as the sign says above you might also come across monkeys on the road.