Thailand is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world and the vast majority of tourists have no problems during their time here. However, as our website editor, Roy Cavanagh outlines in this article, there are some important points related to road safety that visitors should be aware of when travelling in Thailand.
If you’re an experienced driver and obey the laws of the road, driving can be a convenient way to get around Thailand. But Thailand’s road safety statistics don’t make good reading and it’s important for tourists to be aware of potential risks before taking to the roads.
Thailand road safety statistics
In 2017, Thailand’s roads were considered the second most dangerous in the world after Libya. In 2018, WHO reported that Thailand’s road collision-related death rate was 32.7 people out of every 100,000. This compared to 2.8 in Singapore and 2.9 in the UK. Figures have improved slightly in recent years, but road safety remains a serious issue in Thailand.
The majority of road accidents in Thailand involve motorbikes. There are a variety of factors at play including lack of driver experience, speeding, and inconsistent law enforcement. And Thai authorities also acknowledge that a culture of drink-driving contributes to the high accident rates. This is highlighted every year during the long holiday for Songkran in April. Despite annual road safety campaigns there is a spike in fatal accidents over the holiday period, with many of these alcohol related.
General advice for driving on Thailand’s roads
Like the UK and Ireland, Thailand drives on the left. Road signs in main cities and tourist areas have signs in English as well as Thai. In many areas of the country, the quality of the main roads themselves are excellent. While road surfaces are generally good, even if you are confident and an experienced driver you should expect the unexpected. There are hazards on Thai roads that can and do cause accidents; stray dogs lying in the road, motorists overtaking on blind bends, drivers tailgating, loose gravel, poorly lit roads at night, and potholes on rural roads. Although Thailand doesn’t have to contend with ice or snow on the roads, surfaces can become treacherous during and after tropical downpours.
Motorbike safety advice
For experienced motorbike riders there are some incredible routes like the famous Mae Hong Son Loop in North Thailand. But if you’ve never driven a motorbike before, Thailand is not the place to learn. That might not be a popular opinion and it may make me sound like a killjoy, but I’ve seen the tragic consequences first-hand when people with no riding experience jump on a motorbike on Ko Samui or in Chiang Mai. There will be people reading this who will disagree and say they had amazing adventures when they hired a motorbike on their travels in Thailand. Ultimately, we’re all adults and so everybody has to make their own decision. If you are thinking about hiring a motorbike in Thailand keep these things in mind:
- If you’re from the UK or Ireland and not legally licensed to ride a motorbike in your home country, you aren’t legally licensed in Thailand. Although motorbike shops may still rent out a bike to you without checking your licence, it will be you who is breaking the law. Check your insurance small-print too. Not all insurance policies cover you if you don’t have a motorbike licence and an international driving permit.
- Wearing a helmet is compulsory. While the law is often ignored by locals (and tourists) you risk being stopped and fined if you don’t wear a helmet. But you risk far more if you come off your bike. Wear a helmet.
- Don’t hand over your passport when hiring a motorbike. The renter can take a photocopy, but you should always keep the original. If a renter insists on keeping your passport, walk away and go somewhere else.
- Check the bike for damage and test that everything is in working order.
- Wear some sort of protection. Even if it’s long trousers and a pair of trainers instead of shorts and flip-flops, this can make a difference if you have a minor accident.
Motorcycles or scooters for hire in beach resorts are often unregistered and can’t be used legally on a public road. Before you hire a vehicle, make sure you’re covered by your travel insurance and check the small print of the lease agreement. Don’t hand over your passport as a guarantee against returning a motorcycle or scooter . . . Riding quad-bikes can be dangerous. It is also illegal to drive these on the roads even though they’re available to hire on the roadside.https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/thailand/safety-and-security#road-travel
Hiring a car
The minimum age for car hire in Thailand can vary, but is usually 21. You need to have your driving licence with you and should also have an international driving permit. Keep your driving licence and passport with you in case you are stopped by police for any reason. There are plenty of local car hire places to choose from with varying degrees of service, but you can also find well-established international companies e.g.
Whoever you use, inspect the car and check the tyres, lights, brakes, and fluid levels before setting off on a journey. As an alternative, hiring a car or van with a driver can be a cost-effective solution if you are travelling with friends or family. Wearing a seatbelt for drivers and passengers is compulsory.
Not all bus operators in Thailand adhere to the same safety standards. For long distance and overnight buses, look for reputable companies who limit driver hours and have better safety records. These include:
The Transport Company
Nakhon Chai Air
Cycling is growing in popularity in Thailand and is an excellent way to explore historical locations like Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. But as mentioned already, expect the unexpected on Thai roads. Soi dogs in particular can be a nuisance to cyclists.
Walking in Thailand can present its own hazards. Pavements aren’t always well maintained and you will often find parked motorbikes, street vendors or random obstructions blocking the way. But the most important thing to be aware of is pedestrian crossings. Do not assume vehicles will stop for you at zebra crossings or at pedestrian crossings, even when the lights are red. Drivers are supposed to stop, but the fact is very often they don’t. Always cross with caution and even if cars have stopped look out for motorbikes who may still be whizzing through.