Traffic Accident Statistics for Thailand
See video of how to cross a busy road in Bangkok(bottom of this page).
Thailand Second in the World (behind Libya) for Number of Road Accident Deaths
We have tried for a few years to keep track of the number of vehicle accidents and deaths in traffic in Thailand. Eventually, we found that it is impossible to find accurate and up-to-date data and present statistics for the country. You can find our previous efforts here, some data may still shine a light on the problem, which is : Thailand has a serious problem with road safety, and a lot of lives are lost on the roads. Lately, we found out that the discrepancy between locally reported casualties, and what is reported in WHO reports is the following : Thai casualties apparently give the casualties as they are at the site of the accident. Any deaths while on the way to the hospital, or later in hospital, are likely not or underreported.
For this review we will give you the most recent data as offered by the WHO (World Health Organization). Thereafter a more reliable presentation of deaths on the road as occurring during the 7-day New Year period. This period of time (as is the period around the Songkran festival) is very actively monitored each year by the Thai media.
Interesting is the number of deaths when categorized by type of road user. [Data used from 2016 as an example] The amount of drivers (and passengers) killed on motorcycles (including 3-wheelers, we assume tuktuks) is simply stagering. For a large part, these road users are from the low-income category of people, and one dares to suggest that this is part of the reason not more is done to improve road safety in Thailand. Not shown on this graph : There are about as many accidents in Bangkok as in the rest of Thailand combined. However, the number of deaths and injuries is much lower.
Below are date of road fatalities categorized by road user category. The data are provided by Thai government (see reference below graphic). Passenger cars comprise only 12 % of road fatalities, evenly divided as 6% car drivers, and 6 % car passengers. As mentioned data are from 2016, but the proportions have not really changed since.
Motorcycles (including 3-wheelers) make up 74 % of road casualties, with no data provided which indicate how many motorcycle passengers are among the casualties.
Injury Surveillance system, Bureau of Epidemiology, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health (2016) : Deaths by road user category
Using its own methods (called "Projected death registration data"), the WHO estimates the number of road traffic deaths in 2013 at 24,237 persons, or a Rate per 100,000 population fo 36.2
According to this estimate, Thailand in 2013 ranks SECOND in the WORLD, after Libya, which is in the midst of what can be at least called 'civil unrest'. Though based on data from 3 years ago, this statistic is now invariably mentioned in any article in local newspapers, related to the traffic deaths issue. The number of deaths may be an estamation, but we never noticed it challenged by Thai authorities.
To be fair, Thailand made it just to second place. Quite a number of countries reached more than 30 deaths per 100,000 population. They include : Burkina Fasso, Central African Republic, Congo, Iran, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Togo, Tanzania. Then again, Thailand has reached a higher level of development (as by GDP) than all of these countries, and should do better than this.
In surrounding countries, Malaysia (24), Vietnam (24.5), Myanmar (20.3), the numbers are high but lower than in Thailand, though we think that likely in Vietnam and Myanmar, the number of car owners is lower.
Update (released 2018, data for 2016, by WHO)
The World Health Organization (WHO) released its latest Global Status Report on Road Safety in 2018, reporting on data for the year 2016.
The data offered where somewhat promising. Reported road traffic fatalities totalled 22,491 which gives on estimate per 100,000 population of 32.7
This latest number is better than the estimate of 36.2 fatalities per 100,000 population for the year 2013, just three years earlier. Thailand now reportedly ranks ninth in the world for fatalities per 100,000 population. However, it must be recognized that a few countries listed 'above' Thailand, have a limited total population, which makes data less persistent from year to year.
The Seven Days around New Year
There are two periods each year when the local media concentrate their attention towards the number of casualties on the road. They are the 'Western' New Year, and the Thai New Year (Songkran). These constitute prolonged holidays. The government always makes sure people get at least 5 days off, so they can visit their relatives (in the provinces). Since many years, daily statistics are published in the newspapers taking stock of the number of accidents and the number of deaths on the road.
This interest by the local press, coincides each time with the government in charge issuing various orders, and making promises that 'this time things will be different', and the number of deaths will be lower than in the previous year. Sometimes, it looks like this promise is fulfilled, but then again, wishful thinking is prevalent, and improvements one year, are followed by disappointment the next.
In the period from December 29, 2016 to January 4, 2017 478 people got killed by accidents on the roads of Thailand. 4,128 injuries were sustained and 3,919 reported road accidents occurred. This is the highest number of deaths since 2006. From the graph below it looks like there was some improvement between 2009 and 2015, but this year was a bit of wake-up call. In one horrendous accident between a van and a truck 25 people were killed. [so now the government plans to take vans off the road]
Update New Year Period 2017-2018 : During the so-called 'dangerous' days in the New Year period from 28 December 2017 till 3 January 2018, there were 423 road casualties, and (approximately 4,005 injuries caused by 3,841 accidents)
Update New Year Period 2018-2019 : The number of fatalities reached 463, which was 9.5 % higher than the previous year. There were 3,791 road accidents, resulting in 3,892 persons hospitalized. 80% of accidents involved motorcycles.
Update New Year Period 2019-2020 : The number of fatalities decreased to 373, which seems to be substantial (-19.4 % compared to the previous year). There were 3,421 road accidents with a total of 3,499 people injured. Per province, most people died in the capital Bangkok (15) this year. As before, most vehicles involved in accidents were motorcycles, making up 83 % of the total.
Interestingly, when multiplying the number of casualties during one weekend (in 2018 as an example) by 52, one comes into the neighborhood of the number of casualties during one year as reported by the WHO. (423*52 = 21996).
If the numbers are published by day during the New Year period (and also during the Thai New year period in April), why not continue the good habit during the whole year. As mentioned before, it is quite difficult (actually impossible) to get accurate date for the whole year.
By the way, Songkran was cancelled due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Since the number of casualties caused by the pandemic has been limited in Thailand (58 as of Mid-August 2020), it may actually be that lives have been saved during the pandemic, with much less travelers on the road, and less family visits from people in Bangkok, going back home. We do not have car accident statistics for this period, but it stands to reason that there will be less victims, if people rather stayed at home, rather than moving about by car.
Can something be done?
Being a pedestrian and a cyclist, never using a motorcycle, and always a bit anxious when being a passenger in a car, I am quite biased against my motorized road companions.
What happens to the friendly minded Thai people when using a vehicle in traffic? It seems a violent disposition takes over, together with a lack of self-restraint, a lot of selfishness, and a loss of distinction between what's right and what's wrong on the road.
To correct what is behind poor behaviour is a job for parents, society, education and religion. We feel incompetent in giving advice here. In any case, results will take a long time to emerge, and we mean something like decades.
In the mean time, what can be done? What can be done, is the implementation of existing rules and laws. That is (possibly together with mild nudging and educational campaigns) : more repression of bad behaviour is needed. Punishments, public shame, and financial loss can make drivers modify their behaviour, for their own benefit.
We notice on a daily basis, that violations of traffic laws, are not punished. Living close to Asoke road, we notice motorcycles and cars going through red at the traffic lights, literally thousands of time a day. Quite often, we witness scenes where pedestrians crossing the road miss being killed just by inches.
Traffic police are hardly noticed around Bangkok. It would be much better if they would monitor important intersections, and be visible on the streets standing or walking around. You simply do not see their presence on the road.
Nowadays car registration plates can be screened automatically. Maybe this is not yet possible for motorcycles. Nevertheless, there is a call for continuous video monitoring of important crossings, roads and intersections, with automatic registration of traffic violations. A system operating this way, would not necessitate interruption of traffic flow (we think this is one reason why traffic violations are not punished, because it would create traffic chaos, if just a few cars were stopped on busy roads or intersections), but offenders would simply be notified by mail or email about their law breaking behaviour.
In conclusion, the way to go : Implement existing traffic law regulations by being present on the street, and use CCTV monitoring.
Add-on : Before we forget. It looks like a lot of urban footpaths now, have easier access for wheelchairs than a few years back. However, partly because of this, the walkways now are regulary used by motorcycles, making being a pedestrian more difficult again. It looks a bit like the footpaths that have been cleared of vendors in the last few years, are now territory claimed by motorcyclists.
Add-on : It has been tried before without success, but why not try it again? Most cars in Bangkok use window films to reduce solar glare, and to avoid being seen. What is bad about this : 1) Eye contact with the driver is not possible, you simply do not see him. This is inherently unsafe. 2) Law enforcement agents, when approaching a car, can not see what the driver and passengers are up to.
Surely there is window film that reduces solar glare, and gives heat protection, without significantly impairing the possibility to look inside from the outside.