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Five tips for driving safely in Thailand

Thailand can be a wonderful place to live, with good infrastructure, modern comforts and some of the most beautiful sites in Southeast Asia. However, it sorely lacks in one area: road safety.

Thailand’s roads have the second-highest fatality rates in the world, according to road accident statistics in a 2015 World Health Organization report.

In a country of about 68 million people, there were more than 14,000 reported fatalities in road traffic accidents in 2012 alone. Of these, 73 per cent were users of two- or three-wheeled vehicles and only 13 per cent (combining drivers and passengers) were travelling in cars.

This is particularly chilling for foreigner visitors, who tend to rent scooters and motorbikes more frequently than cars. The rental industry in Thailand makes it easy for foreigners to rent two-wheeled vehicles without proper licences. And while traffic safety laws technically exist in Thailand, they are not frequently enforced.

This has led to the normalisation of risky behaviour among locals, such as drinking and driving, using phones while driving, speeding and weaving through traffic.

But is it still safe to travel in Thailand? While the above behaviour diminishes the safety of the roads in general, you can be assured that there are things responsible drivers can do to prevent collisions and stay safe.




Know the risky habits of local drivers

Thailand roadway traffic can move at quite a fast speed, and the prevalence of scooters and motorbikes increases the number of moving factors to watch out for. You’ll find that scooter and motorcycle drivers will pass on both sides, and employ unconventional ways of moving through traffic, such as using the pavement for short periods. And, although there is a law against using mobile phones while driving, many people both text and talk on the phone, even when driving motorbikes.

Being aware of these risky habits can go a long way in preventing collisions. Always be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to drivers using their phones, who may drift lanes or drive slower than the speed of traffic, while being less likely to use their turn signals.

Understand Thailand’s highway code

To drive legally in Thailand, you must carry either a Thai driving licence or valid international driving licence for the class of vehicle you wish to operate. Seatbelt laws only apply to the driver and front seat car passengers. All scooter and motorbike drivers are required to wear helmets, though many on the road don’t. The blood-alcohol concentration limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood, compared with the UK and US where it is 80mg per 100ml of blood. Be safe and always wear a helmet, rely on public transport when drinking alcohol and buckle up despite the lax laws. 

Know the basics

Thailand is like Britain, where people drive on the left side of the road. But if you’re from one of the majority of other countries in the world that drive on the right, you’ll have to adapt. This is especially relevant when making turns, so you don’t find yourself turning into oncoming traffic. 

Map out your route

Each day, take the time to understand the routes you will take. Don’t let one-way and tricky branch roads surprise you on the road when you have little time to react. 

Don’t rush and keep left

While Thai drivers love to zip around, they will not honk or pressure slower drivers to speed up as long as slow drivers keep left and allow traffic to move around them. Use this to your advantage to drive carefully and confidently, giving yourself enough time to anticipate turns, changes in road conditions and the actions of other drivers.


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Comments: Add your comment

Dana 14th November 2016

My first time driving on the left was in New Zealand. A friend of mine and fellow rider did an email intro with an older rider friend of his in NZ. This gent told me to bring an extra bandanna to tie around the left mirror stem as a reminder to stay left. My first time riding on the left and it worked well. Took a rental Harley and did a five day riding tour after which we met up for dinner and exchanged riding stories.

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