Guess what the leading cause of death for foreigners is in Thailand…. Correct-traffic accidents. “Look at me! Look at me! I’m cool. I’m driving a scooter in Thailand” and then…splotto all over the road. So goes another farang roadkill.
Thai Road Rules: Chaos Explained
At first glance, Thai roads seem chaotic. And they can be. Thai drivers can seem kamakazee-like. And they often are. But there is a method to this Thai driving madness.
As with most of Thai culture, a foreigner is left perplexed by its contradictions. “How can such a respectful people abandon all common courtesy when behind the wheel and risk life and limb?” Let me briefly try to explain.
First, Thai roads are very dangerous if you don’t know how to drive in Thailand. A split second forgetfulness of only checking to your left when making a right-hand turn can result in a horrific accident. Thais drive on the left-hand side.
But drive if you must. If you have a valid foreign driver’s license, you’re fine. Better to have an international license. I drive very occasionally-sometimes a car; sometimes a scooter. I prefer being a passenger, as I do in the U.S. The car is my preferred way to travel throughout Thailand. And when we go on fabric safaris to rural villages throughout The Kingdom, it’s the only way to travel. So at times, drive I must.
Share the Road
The rules of the road in Thailand can be summed up with the following phrase: “Share the road.”
Here’s a very common driving scenario: You’re driving down a two-lane roadway with a shoulder on both sides. A car appoaches in the on-coming lane of traffic about 50 yards away. A third car in back of you now decides this is a great time to pass you and pulls alongside of you in the on-coming lane of traffic! Head on collision dead-ahead. Not quite for the Thai driver. You’re expected to slow down and drive onto the shoulder and the oncoming driver 50 yards ahead is expected to do the same. Collision avoided. No horns, flipping the bird, cussing, etc. Everyone has shared the road Thai style. This concept of sharing the road manifests itself in all aspects of Thai driving and helps explain their sometimes bizarre driving habits to the Western mind.
For scooters, Thai road rules are even more relaxed. If driving a scooter, the following road rule applies:“Do what’s ever needed to get from point A to B”.
Always drive on the shoulder if possible-the cars that want to pass will tailgate only a few inches from your scooter if you don’t. You’ll also be available roadkill for oncoming traffic that wants to pass coming in the opposite direction.
Your violating the principle of “sharing the road” if you drive your scooter in the middle of a lane. Your hogging the whole lane when you can be riding on the shoulder. Makes perfect sense…kind of. Nothing is more fun than scooting about town; and nothing can be more dangerous. Helmet laws are enforced more and more throughout The Kingdom, especially in the beach cities.
The Art of Yielding
When and how Thais yeild to other drivers is an art form that you’ll never learn from just a few trips to the country.
A car slowly creeping into traffic is a sure sign to yield…sometimes. Are you sure the oncoming truck will yield to you when you want to pass another vehicle? Hope so; if not there’ll be a head on collision. Ect., ect., ect. I could go on with confusing examples of when your expected to yield and when you’re not.
Most importantly, never show any form of road rage. Even when you see a driver make an incredibly boneheaded driving manuveur that threatened to make roadkill out of you, just pass it off with barely a shrug. Thais always yeild to a calm demeanor with everything in life-even bad drivers.
Driving at Night in Rural Thailand
The dangers increase manifold. Speeds are greater. The ability to yield less apparent. Roadways are poorly lit and marked. And more drivers are under the influence of alcohol, especially during Songkran and other holidays.
The End of the Road
Think carefully before deciding to rent that scooter in Bangkok or a beach city. I know, all the cool farang are doing it. What you don’t know are the traffic statistics behind your decision to “scoot around”. Besides, I want to stare out the window and observe this increadibly interesting country…not concentrate on driving. I do enough of that in Los Angeles, my home sweet home.