30 Dec The Sound of Sleigh Bells – or the Sound of Sirens?
Here I am in my Chiang Mai home, waiting to see in the New Year, fortunate indeed to be living in one of the most blessed countries on earth – Thailand.
Last weekend’s sound of Christmas sleigh bells, carol singing, and general Yuletide fun (well, at least in the shopping malls) has receded into the distance to be replaced by a new sound – sirens.
Yes, coming into my home from not that far off is a very different sound this morning; the sound of fear, panic, danger, injury and death – the sirens on Thailand roads.
The ambulances are now screaming their urgency on an almost constant basis, day and night, and I exaggerate not one iota.
For this is the New Year holiday season in Thailand and for thousands of Thais, and tourists, it will bring only death and pain.
How many will die during this holiday season? Hard to estimate. Certainly it will be in the hundreds, with thousands more injured, many maimed and scarred for life. Over the next seven to ten days, thousands of families will attend their loved one in hospital or mourn their death. Children orphaned, parents grieving; husbands and wives, lovers and friends, all left bereft of someone special.
The roads of Thailand are the most dangerous in the world. Okay, according to the World Health Organization, Eritrea, Libya and Iraq are slightly more dangerous countries to drive in, but who in their right mind is visiting those places for their annual holiday?
No, Thailand beats the lot. Because at 38.1 it is not only only just behind Eritrea (48.4) on the number of deaths per 1000,000 residents, but because it is also one of the world’s top tourist destinations, making it especially lethal for those unprepared for the traffic conditions which prevail here.
The police cannot, by themselves, stop the slaughter. Successive governments make pronouncements and set targets for reducing the death and injured count, but all to no avail.
Don’t ask me why Thailand fails so miserably in terms of road safety. The list of contributing factors is as long as my arm (e.g. 12 year olds ride scooters here, invariably without a helmet and while carrying two to three of their friends on pillion – see photos). But laissez faire social attitudes towards Health and Safety and fatalistic approaches to death, certainly have a lot to answer for.
Approximately 80 people die on Thailand’s roads every day of the year. But come New Year holidays then the figure goes up dramatically. The WHO estimates 24,000 were killed on Thailand’s roads in 2012. And the number increases each year. So your guess is as good as mine as to how many have died during 2016. And the year is not over yet.
Here in Chiang Mai it will be an especially bloody weekend. We residents are expecting a record influx of Thai and foreign tourists this year – 30,000 a day for 6 days, perhaps doubling the population of the city over the Christmas and New Year period.
The hotels are full.
And so are the hospitals.
(I don’t intend to drive anywhere for the next 48 hours)
Happy New Year! (and safe travelling in 2017)