Driving in Thailand is sure to make your heart race. The sight of a moped packed with a family of 6 plus their dog zooming by, or a man on a bike balancing a refrigerator on his handlebars, is business as usual on Thailand’s roads. In addition tuk-tuks, Thailand’s major form of public transport which are mini open air buses on three wheels, zoom in and out of traffic gaps and cause general havoc.
Compared to most other countries, gas is quite cheap in Thailand. Expats will certainly find this to be true, but locals won’t. Based on the average daily income in Thailand ($17), the average Thai has to spend 25% of their day’s wage for a gallon of gas.
Driving in Thailand is challenging and dangerous. Due to the mad volume of traffic and the fact that its roadways are not well maintained and rather confusing, many accidents occur. The World Health Organization reported a 38.1 road traffic rate (per 100 000 population) in Thailand for the year 2010. The only country to have a higher rate is the Dominican Republic.
Organizations such as the Thailand Accident Research Center (TARC) analyze the causes for these accidents and how best to circumvent them. This organization conducts research studies, analyzes crash scenes, and offers training to educate people about road safety.
The Thai government is aware of the chaos that is driving in Thailand and is trying to improve the conditions. However, this usually only creates more confusion, as one of their approaches is to manipulate the flow of traffic simply by switching the direction of one-way street signs. This then, and rightly so, confuses everyone and one-way streets become two-way streets and sometimes with three lanes! Thai drivers also have to be extremely flexible because the length of this change varies by the length of the current government’s stay in office.
In Thailand people drive on the left side of the road. If you’re an expat coming from a country where this is also the norm, adjusting to driving in Thailand should be slightly easier. For expats who don’t have this advantage, this is all the more reason to be extremely cautious when driving in Thailand.
Thailand’s more than 180,000 kilometers of roadways are not enough to handle the amount of traffic on them. Thailand has tried on numerous occasions to implement projects to build new high-rise roads and highways in order to move the congestion out of city centers.
Thailand’s road system is divided into highways and expressways. Highways connect every part of Thailand and usually have four-lanes. Expressways are the Thai version of toll roads and are usually elevated. The system of expressways however is mainly concentrated around Bangkok.
Driving in Thailand is one subject and driving in Bangkok is another. Bangkok usually makes every list for the worst traffic jams in the world. And the city certainly deserves this reputation. Unfortunately, traffic in the Thai capital seems to only be getting worse. Although the city has invested in public transportation in the past decade, it hasn’t been as much of a help as was hoped. To counter any relief public transit might have brought, the Thai government introduced a tax refund policy for first time car buyers. It isn’t surprising that this has only resulted in an increase in cars.
Congestion in Bangkok has become so bad that people avoid driving downtown altogether unless they absolutely must. Of course, not everyone can avoid driving in Thailand’s capital. Couriers and the drivers of utility vehicles do not have much of a choice.
In 2012 there were 6.8 million vehicles in Bangkok, but the city can only adequately cope with about 2 million. The most recent population estimate (from 2010) is 8.28 million. There are simply too many cars in Bangkok.
When driving in Thailand’s larger cities in general, it is wise to avoid the left lane as it is generally reserved for loading and parking. When stopping at an intersection, leave some room between you and the car in front of you. No matter how tight of a squeeze it is, a motorcyclist will inevitably try to weave through. So you might as well give your car a bit of a break.
Mopeds and bicycles seem to have developed their own system of road rules and abide neither by traffic signals nor one-way street signs. Their goal is to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Unfortunately this often includes dangerous driving habits more often than not resulting in deadly accidents with larger vehicles. Accidents involving motorcycles make up 70% of all road traffic deaths.
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