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Driving in #Thailand – a list of facts, figures and fotos. Comments and your own examples welcomed.


Driving in #Thailand

The Land of Smiles has the second highest recorded road fatality rate in the world measured at 38 deaths per 100,000 of the population. The Dominican Republic has 41.7 deaths per hundred thousand. Thailand’s figure may be significantly understated as it calculates road deaths as death at the scene and not later in hospital.

The only other countries with rates in the 30s are Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Oman, South Africa, and Venezuela. The comparative rate for the UK is 3.7; Australia, 6.1; France, 6.4; and the USA, 11.4

74% of fatalities are of motor-cyclists.



Most Thai police officers are motorcyclists and not car owners. They mainly use their own bikes or those in the station’s confiscated pound. Particularly outside Bangkok, few are provided by the state. Not surprising then that officers will see the biker’s point of view rather than the motorists when there is an accident. It’s also culturally accepted that the person perceived to be the wealthier pays for any damage unless it’s clear cut that the motorcyclist is at fault or if the biker was under the influence of drink or drugs. There’s a pragmatic reason too. Many motor cyclists are uninsured so neither they nor an insurance company would pay.

Perhaps you’ve observed how they ride out of a small soi onto a main road without looking. I bet you’ve seen them riding without lights at night. At twilight, it can be very dangerous. Around eight or nine o’clock you need to watch for drunken drivers too. In our home countries, the problem occurs late at night or in the early hours of the morning. It starts much earlier here.

Even if a driver is signaling left, he may still get overtaken on the nearside by a biker. (Thais drive on the left hand side of the road. Well, most of the time.) Riders seem to believe they have free “get out of jail cards” and ride without fear of being stopped for bad driving.

When I drive my car, I use my mirrors a lot to keep an eye on motorcyclists that could overtake me on either the left or the right, weaving through the traffic. And if I’m turning left I look out for a rider that may be riding on the wrong side of the road in order to turn into the road from which I’m exiting. Cars also frequently cut corners.

When a motorcyclist wants to turn right into a side road, he does not move to the centre line and allow vehicles to overtake on the left until he can complete the turn. He takes a right-angled swoop from his position on the nearside lane, cutting in front of vehicles following behind him. You learn to watch out for that. You’ll see farangs doing the same thing. Seems they copy Thai riding styles, maybe because they have driven cars but never ridden in their home countries

You get used to the different driving and riding style in Thailand. In the West, on turning right at a junction without traffic lights, one or maybe two cars will slip through is there’s a gap in oncoming traffic. In this country, you “follow your leader”. If one car goes, everyone else follows; the traffic coming towards you stops and waits. I drive that way now: it’s perfectly acceptable. It actually speeds up traffic flow.

Another practice I like is the flashing of lights to indicate you are coming through. In the West, it can indeed mean that but it can also be an invitation for the other driver to proceed. In Thailand there is no such confusion: it means you’re going to drive on and the other driver must stop.

Thailand is a very hierarchical society. The structure applies to road users too. The larger or more expensive looking the vehicle, the more it will take precedence: whatever the rules of the road may suggest. Get ready to give way to a large articulated truck or coach pulling out in front of you. Tuk tuks are a law unto themselves.

Up country, roundabouts are not common. The practice of filtering into traffic without causing someone to stop for you is not well appreciated. A Thai would instinctively push into a lane on the roundabout expecting other vehicles to stop and let him in. U-turns on dual carriageways, on the other hand, are much more common than in the West. They can still be rather dangerous because cars and heavy trucks turning in the other direction can block your own view.

Traffic lights are common and don’t change as quickly as in the West. That encourages amber gamblers and the running of a red light. You’ll notice motorists are slow to drive off on green because they know their compatriots routinely jump the lights. When you’re waiting at a red signal, motorcyclists will steer into a position in front of you, often well ahead of the red light. Car drivers must wait patiently behind them until they move over to the left so that they can proceed when the signal changes.



Bikes re not limited to one rider and one pillion passenger.




The smiles you see all around you in Thailand can be deceptive. Road rage is not unheard of in a land famous for its doctrine of avoiding conflict and turning the other cheek. In the last two years in the Chiangmai province, guns have been pulled when a motorist has unwittingly or deliberately cut another motorist up. It occurs in other provinces too.

Traffic police routinely man checkpoints to catch bikers not wearing safety helmets and motorists not wearing seat belts. (Count the number of times you see safety helmets stored I the front baskets of motor bikes.) To get quickly on your way again and avoid getting a ticket and a long wait at the police station to retrieve your licence, a subtle passing of a few bank notes to the officer is the customary practice. Officer salaries are low and the bounty is shared out later amongst colleagues and superiors.

Here’s an officer on point duty.


Enforcement of other traffic offences are rare. In rural areas and towns up-country there are rarely nightly police patrols. Bad driving and riding techniques which are potentially more dangerous are not tackled. Poor driving standards result from there being no on the road driving tests and little formal driving instruction. Tests are held at a government centre and everyone appears to pass.

Shrines are erected at accident black spots; motorists, truckers, and coach drivers taking their hands off the wheel to wai them as they pass. Some police authorities put up cardboard cut-outs of a police officer or stage a display of a mock accident with a crumpled car and dummies laying on the ground covered in blood.







Overladen goods vehicles are everyday sights.



Thailand is mainly rural.





and the infrastructure not always that good.




  1. Pattira permalink

    I think it is true that driving in Thailand is a very hazardous. Because the rules are not strict enough and the education of Thailand is still low.


  2. Matt Owens Rees permalink

    Reblogged this on Matt.Owens.Rees; Thailand Writer.


  3. Very interesting post. Thank you. You may be interested in my comments on the subject. Slightly different angle. I have spent many years a British Motorcycle Instructor Trainer and a little time in Thailand. #ThaiBiker or!thai-biker/cfvg


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