You cannot dispute it. Riding a motorbike in Thailand is dangerous. Thailand has one of the highest road traffic fatality rates in the world. Those numbers don’t lie, so be careful!!
We cannot stress just how dangerous it is.
Anyone who has lived in Thailand long enough has seen plenty of ghastly sights. We have seen things on the road that would literally make your toes curl.
Long-term residents of Phuket all know someone who has either spent a great deal of time in hospital or died from a nasty road accident.
What are The Road Stats?
Most of the road deaths that occur in Thailand involve two wheeled vehicles. That’s a fact. Every time you ride a motorbike, there is a very good chance you might get hurt.
The statistics are mind boggling. For a few years now, Thailand has been near the top of the list for road fatalities according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety. Libya has the most deaths per 100,000 inhabitants (35.9), but Thailand still comes in at 8th with around 32.7 deaths per 100,000 population.
Compare this with countries like Norway and Switzerland, with only 2.7, or even Sweden and Singapore, which have just 2.8 deaths per 100,000.
Most of the people we know who drive motorbikes in Thailand have had at least one accident over the last 20 years. Some have had multiple accidents.
And these are careful drivers. Some are middle aged women, who drive slowly and carefully. Most of the time, but no means all of the time, they get away with just cuts, bruises and scrapes.
The numbers do not lie. The dangers are obvious and very real.
Go See For Yourself
A trip to Wachira Hospital is an easy way to check out the daily toll of motorbike accidents. Visiting Sririroj or Bangkok Phuket Hospital would be equally eye-opening.
At any time of the day you will see outpatients having wounds stitched or their heads bandaged. It’s a real reminder of the dangers of driving a bike. But the ones you see in reception or the waiting areas are the lucky ones.
The ones who become statistics are already in the ICU – or worse.
Think about it. If 1 in 10 accidents results in a death, then the other 9 are not even a part of the statistics. Some of those 9 still suffer broken limbs, internal injuries, permanent brain damage, or are otherwise crippled for life.
The Seven Dangerous Days
Thailand has two 7-day periods which have become infamous for the number of road deaths that occur. Not surprisingly, these coincide with the biggest holidays.
New Year’s week (28th December and 3rd January) is the deadliest, so much so that the police have nicknamed these “The Seven Dangerous Days.” In the 7-day period ending 3rd January 2019, 463 people died on the roads in Thailand. This was 9.5% higher than the previous year, and just shy of the record 478 death in the 2017.
Songkran (the traditional Thai New Year) also has its own seven dangerous days around mid-April. The Songkran period in 2018 saw 418 traffic-related deaths.
People are now so aware of the risks during these dates that they consciously avoid drink driving (more from fear of arrest than anything else). Despite this, there are questions about whether the real tally is actually higher.
Either way, during these two weeks each year, over 400 people die, and almost ten times that number are injured, from road accidents in Thailand
And most of these accidents involve motorbikes.
New Campaigns to Improve the Numbers
Every year we do see the authorities coming up with new safety initiatives.
Certainly when there are more road blocks, there seem to be fewer road deaths. And there are definitely a great deal more road blocks these days. More people are being subjected to breathalysers, and some drunk drivers are even prosecuted. We have even heard of some foreign offenders being deported.
What to Watch Out For
Driving on the roads is dangerous all year round. But we have found that driving during the period when the high season is ending, and the low season is just beginning, is often the worst.
It is not only the risk aquaplaning, which most people are aware of. Over time, no matter where you are, engine oil builds up on road. In Phuket, the heat makes this worse and mixes it with the tarmac. On top of that, there will be a lot of dust and dirt on the roads, which have not been soaked for a while.
So when the rain starts to fall on a smouldering hot Phuket road, after months of dry weather, it creates a death trap.
And as the rainy season continues, due to the oil present in the asphalt, even fresh rain after the roads have been dried by the sun can be dangerous. The first few hours of rain are the most treacherous. Eventually, the rain washes away the buildup of oil and dirt, but until then, you must be wary when driving anywhere.
It is something to be aware of everywhere. But it may not be as bad in other parts of Thailand where the topography is flat. The roads in Phuket are far from level. If you drive on coast roads (as many tourists do), the roads wind left to right, and go up and down hill. The hot surface on a downhill curve after a quick shower can be fatal for anyone riding a motorbike.
Quite simply, you have to be very very careful. You can find any number of clips on Youtube of people crashing into each other on the hills. And even if you are able to stop in time, there is no guarantee that the car or lorry behind you will be able to stop.
Don’t Be a Clever Clogs
Not all of the accidents we see are from your everyday Thais driving on the roads (although many obviously are).
You’d be amazed just how stupid holiday makers can be riding a motorbike in Thailand. It is incredible the risks they are willing take, oblivious to the danger they expose themselves to.
As we’ve said, people have accidents driving slowly and carefully. So just think of the risk you are taking when you drive like a halfwit.
We once saw a Thai woman killed driving at 5km an hour. She was unlucky to have been knocked off her bike by a big lorry and went straight under its wheels, head first. This was not a pleasant sight.
Every year, tourists from all over the world die on the roads in Phuket. Don’t be an idiot. Please make sure you are not one of them.
The New Clampdown on Licenses
Technically, the company renting the bikes should check that you have a license to drive a motorbike, but they very rarely do.
It’s so easy to spot the tourists who have never ridden a motorbike in their lives. They are the ones wobbling all over the place, losing control and sliding off the road at even the slightest bump.
If you’ve never ridden a motorbike, don’t decide you should make your first attempt in Thailand.
Legally, your license needs to state each class of vehicle which you are licensed to drive. So if you don’t have the right license to drive a bike at home, then don’t drive a bike in Thailand. Simple.
Even an international license must show that you are allowed to drive a motorbike. The problem is, many international licenses may actually state that you are licensed on a motorbike, even if you have never ridden one before.
An inaccurate license might allow you to rent a bike, but it doesn’t stop you from having a fatal accident.
Safety in Numbers
Holidays are meant for enjoyment. You have that “free as a bird” feeling. For a week or two you can do whatever you want.
So when you see everyone else riding around on motorbikes, you want to do it too.
When you go the bike rental shop and they don’t ask you for a license, you think it’s normal. It’s no big deal to them whether you have a license or not. Obviously everything is going to be just great.
The number of people doing the same thing probably puts you at ease. The fines when you are caught are relatively small, and you aren’t jeopardizing your license by driving illegally, which may well be the case in your home country.
Between November and May the number of road blocks picks up considerably. The problem is there are so many tourists being stopped at this time that there is not really any time to prosecute people. Instead, the police simply collect the fines.
Estimates suggest that there are over 2,000 roadblocks set up across Thailand during the festive period. And anyone caught without the correct license just pays the fine and off they go – until they reach the next road block and pay the next fine.
What, No Helmet?
Most people think they look really cool without a helmet. That’s may be true, but they run the risk of looking really dead, too.
Wearing a helmet is absolutely vital if you want to survive on the roads in Phuket. You may think there’s a slim chance it will happen to you, and you’re not alone. Everyone who has died because they didn’t wear a helmet probably had exactly the same thought.
We understand the sense of freedom you have when you are on holiday; you want to let loose and be wild. We also know how good it feels to drive a bike with the wind blowing through your hair. (We’ve done it in our youth, we’re not proud of it, and we know we were lucky).
If you have an accident and get a bang on the head, the helmet is what saves your life. Not wearing a helmet increases your chances of death substantially.
Travel Insurance – What if You Have An Accident?
This is where you have to be very careful. If you don’t have a license, will your travel insurance cover a week in intensive care? Knowing insurance companies, they will do whatever they can to get out of paying a claim.
If you are really lucky, some insurance companies will pay out for small bikes. But if you are driving in a foreign country illegally, many would refuse to cover your hospital bill. Most insurers do not cover anything if it is deemed an illegal activity.
Insurance companies know that Thailand’s roads are dangerous. If you hire a motorbike and you don’t have a license to drive one, then don’t be surprised if the insurer quotes you the small print of the insurance plan agreement to avoid paying any of your hospital costs. (That would be the agreement where you ticked a box to “accept the terms and conditions,” but never actually read a word of it.)
And don’t think that just because it was someone else’s fault that their insurance will cover you. Many locals drive around without having insurance of their own.
Experience tells us that if you are a foreigner in Thailand the accident will very likely be your fault. Facts and evidence don’t matter – be prepared to accept the blame if you have an accident.
Don’t Drink and Drive
We covered this earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. Don’t be silly. Don’t drink and drive.
OK, we get it. When you are on vacation it is very difficult to abstain. Especially for youngsters who are just out to have fun, fun, fun.
But drinking and driving on a bike is a bad move. It can very well end up in tears. Not your tears, but the tears of all those who loved you.
You considerably increase the chances of having a fatal accident when drinking, and you will have absolutely no legal case. You will be to blame.
Our friend went just 200 metres down the road on his bike to the local bar for a few beers. As he was leaving the bar to go home he took a left turn and crashed into a bike coming the wrong way down the road. But it was still decided that he was at fault.
This accident put him in hospital for 2 weeks. When he left the hospital, not only did he have to foot the bill, but he also had to pay compensation to the other person, even though they suffered no injury.
If this happens to you, just do what he did: accept it, pay the money, and move on with life.
But that is not only just a story about drink driving. As mentioned above, you’ll often get the blame for an accident even if it was someone else’s fault, and even if you were totally sober.
Again, just accept it. That’s the way it is and you just have to pay your way out.
We’ve seen accidents everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. They happen all year round and in every type of weather. They happen on motorways, side streets and on mountain roads.
They happen at speeds of 5 km/hour and they happen at speeds of 70 km/hour.
If you are absolutely sure you want to avoid a motorbike accident, then don’t ride a motorbike. It’s as simple as that.
If, however, you are willing to take the risk, then please be sure to follow a few simple rules.
Here are our tips:
- Make sure you have a license
- Make sure you have insurance
- Wear a helmet
- Don’t drink and drive
- Drive carefully – very carefully
- Be aware of the dangers from every direction
- Drive at a sensible speed
- Avoid dangerous roads
- And Don’t Be An Idiot !!
Other related Phuket articles:
How to Survive Phuket’s Rainy Season
Reasons to Love Phuket’s Rainy Season
The Sea Turtles of Mai Khao Beach
Where to Stay in Phuket For Your Perfect Vacation
Phuket’s World Class Hospitals
Purchasing an Automobile in Phuket
Understanding the Administrative Districts of Phuket