Monday, March 17, 2014

Who Ever is Teaching Them to Drive Should Stop!

You might question is this a legitimate topic to incorporate into a blog about Thailand’s culture code? Well I think it is. I am very familiar with the taxi fraternity and from this experience conclude that they must undergo some devilish transformation once they get behind the wheel. They drive like maniacs, they weave in and out of congested traffic queues to gain a meter or two but here is the rub, they don’t get angry.
Road rage is not part of their psyche. They hardly ever use their horns. When I first arrived in Thailand I thought their horns were burned out and there was a national shortage of spare parts. The upshot of this madness is that in 2012/13 there were 26,000 road deaths. Thailand is the sixth most dangerous country in the world for traffic related deaths. Now how do you explain that? For an outwardly gentle and caring race this is a horrendous statistic. Each week about 500 families can expect to be devastated by the news of the death of a loved one. 60% of these deaths are motorcyclists or their passengers. Many are not wearing crash helmets. You frequently see three or even four people on a motor cycle – whole families including very young children and none of them wearing crash helmets or protective leathers. You see young ladies hitch their short skirts even higher and sit side-saddle clutching only their handbags. Are they not aware of the risks they run? What explanation lay behind this casual attitude to road safety? Do they put their trust in luck?
There are times when ones sympathy for motorcyclists wears paper thin. In rainy weather, to avoid puddles or hidden potholes, they will join pedestrians on walkways and it is the pedestrian who has to jump. When crossing a road, extreme caution is needed, because even when cars are jammed solid, motor cyclists continue on their merry way oblivious to the plight of those on foot. Never trust a pedestrian crossing in Bangkok – only 50% of drivers and riders seem to connect a red light with ‘stop’. It is hard to comprehend what is going through their mind when they see school children on a crossing but carry on seemingly totally oblivious to the law and the safety of others.
Taxi drivers do seek Godly help with their daily toil. Their cars are decorated with miniature Buddha’s and strings of Jasmine flowers – all links to their guardian spirits I presume. I do quite enjoy a tuc-tuc ride. There is something exhilarating being driven at breakneck speed in a flimsy open-sided vehicle. But the drivers of these velocipedes are just as mad as the rest. I remember vividly, when lecturing in Chiang Mai, taking a tuc-tuc to the university campus.
We travelled at warp speed but arrived safely. The students were horrified. They were genuinely concerned about my welfare and from that day on insisted on picking me up from my hotel. I don’t know to this day whether their concern was because of the lady driver or the manner of my arrival? Another of Thailand’s many mysteries!

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