We all know of the dangers here on the roads, especially on islands like Phuket and Samui. The recent VIP bus crash in Surat Thani once again highlighted why air travel is always the safest way to travel in Thailand (touch wood). Jonathan Bennet, a British survivor of the Surat Thani crash that killed 10, including the driver, said of the ordeal, “He was driving like a mad man.”
But then there are times where one must take a taxi, bus or minivan, be it due to financial restrictions or simply because there is no other mode of transport.
In this incident (pictured), my friend had just landed in Koh Samui from Hong Kong, and was taking a private taxi with his wife and two children to the hotel. Both got in the back, each holding one child. Suddenly, Gary looked up to see the driver veering onto the wrong side of the road and a truck coming head on.
Luckily, two things happened that prevented fatality. Firstly, the driver fell asleep with his foot off the accelerator, so the car was slowing down on impact, and secondly, the truck driver could see what was happening and slowed the truck down to further minimize the impact.
The driver suffered facial injuries and there was lots of blood, apparently. My friend suffered bruising, as did his wife. The kids were fine, thankfully. The family were so shaken up by the ordeal they decided to end the long weekend break and head home on the next available flight.
With so many crashes caused by speeding and tiredness, it’s all too easy to blame the driver. But the rabbit hole goes deeper. I remember asking a mini van driver to slow down on a journey to Pai. He told me he had to make it there on time to pick up the new travellers and bring them back to Chiang Mai. If he didn’t do so on deadline his pay would be docked. In tourist destinations such as Chiang Mai, Surat Thani (Samui, Koh Phangan), Phuket and Bangkok, buses are travelling on tight deadlines to make ferries and flights, and if they don’t, tourists will be the first to complain. The sheer number of tourists flooding into the kingdom on any given day dictates heavy schedules and price competition, resulting in high work load and low wages.
More questions need to be asked of operators, and the industry as a whole needs investigating and regulating. How hard are bus/taxi drivers being worked? Are drivers properly licenced to drive the vehicles they are put in charge of? Are they taking regular breaks? Are they being asked to work unreasonable hours?
I have observed on a number of trips that most hotels have a 24 hour limo service, and often it is just two guys working around the clock. If one guy is off on holiday or sick, I guess the other guy is left to work around the clock.
Of course there is the other side of negligence; drivers drinking and driving, or staying up late gambling and not getting a proper rest. We know this goes on. Two weeks ago I hailed a taxi at 6am near my home. I opened the door to ask the driver if he would take me to On Nut station. He was so drunk he could barely speak, and the car stunk of whisky. Needless to say I got another taxi.
The thing is this; people’s lives are being risked all over the country on a daily basis, through pure negligence, be it on behalf of an individual or due to lack of proper regulation. And there can be no excuses anymore. The operators have the money to implement the necessary safety measures in terms of both vehicle and driver. But many choose not to, instead taking a risk on life for a bigger buck. The authorities have the power to make travel safer for Thais and tourists, and only properly enforced regulation can prevent continual uneccessary tragedy.