GURU COVER STORY
If you think you’ve had it with Bangkok traffic, it seems various authorities have finally gotten off their asses and decided to do something about it. They recently put forth some stringent proposals intended to curb the ever-worsening road congestion in the capital. This week we explore the current (and possibly future) state of the roads and practices you should be aware of in the hope that one day (perhaps in this lifetime) we can be safe on the streets and actually go on that planned road trip (if the cars ever move out of the way, that is).
We unearth six questionable (yet rather common) behaviours of Thai motorists and their legal consequences (yes, there are actually laws in place, even if they never appear to be enforced).
1. While you may think motorcycles driving on footpaths are just another whimsical thing that makes Bangkok unique (exciting and deadly), it’s actually against the law. An offender is liable to be fined up to B5,000. Pedestrians, baby strollers and wheelchairs for patients or the disabled are the only things allowed on footpaths.
Pedestrians have so many things to look for on footpaths
2. Pick-up trucks carrying metal pipes that are longer than the vehicle’s length has only one upside we can think of — they help perk up sleepy drivers (for fear of being impaled in their seats). However, it’s legal for these trucks to carry things such as bed mattresses and planks in a rather precarious manner, provided that they follow certain conditions. For example, whether they are transporting people, animals or objects, drivers must secure their load. They must also tie a red flag at the back to alert fellow drivers during daytime or add red lights at night. They cannot carry anything that is wider than the width of their trucks. These are just a few of the conditions they are supposed to follow.
You can’t help but marvel at how much a driver can load on his truck sometimes
3. There are vehicles with red licence plates on the roads. These temporary plates don’t reflect political affiliation but simply show these cars are new. They are allowed to be on the road from 6am-6pm. Also, you can’t drive a car with a red licence plate into another province without receiving permission from your local office of land transport first.
Licence plates can also serve as lottery-winning numbers in Thailand
4. Some motorists are generous enough to lower their windows and share booming music so people won’t become too bored while stuck in traffic. Their actions are actually considered a threat to road safety in the eyes of the law as their music can distract other drivers or annoy them, increasing the chance of an accident. People who want to show off how powerful their car sound system is should be aware that they are liable to three months behind bars or a fine of B2,000-B10,000, or both.
5. Some Thais like to personalise their cars by hanging a plush doll from the rear bumper (well, how else can you tell apart all the white gleaming cars in a parking lot). This weird behaviour may lead to a serious consequence for drivers (besides, getting their dolls dirty). Police can fine them up to B2,000.
We don’t get it either
6. Anyone can make a mistake on the roads and when they do they may be tempted to bribe a traffic police officer to make the trouble go away. If you attempt to bribe a model policeman, however, please know that you may be fined up to B10,000 or face up to five years in jail as (gasp) offering a bribe is unlawful.
WHAT YOUR CHOICE OF VEHICLE SAYS ABOUT YOU
Since we have spent a good chunk of our lives stuck in traffic, we couldn’t help but notice certain types of personalities that are associated with different types of vehicles. Here are some (flippant) observations.
- Your weekend haunts are likely to be restaurants and clubs in Thong Lor or Ekamai.
- You have a beautiful girlfriend (who may or may not just love you for your car).
- You are likely to have graduated with a degree from a foreign university.
- When stopped by a policeman, your first words to him are probably "Don't you know who my daddy is?!"
- You're 90 per cent more likely to be saluted by a security guard at shopping malls. They're also more likely to help you find a parking spot.
- The only time you’re saluted by a security guard is on entering your condo or moo ban.
- You have a difficult time finding your car at a mall as it looks like many others.
- There’s a good chance you have a plush doll somewhere in your car.
- You understand what it feels like to be an oven-roasted chicken when you get in your car for the first 10 minutes.
- Drivers of these cars are slowly gaining a reputation for having the worst road rage these days and pulling illegal moves (you’re off the hook, fancy car drivers. For now).
- You’ve put your dog in the front basket on a ride to the market (or at least have been tempted by the idea).
- You’re very resourceful in finding shortcuts/manoeuvring around other vehicles/fitting a family of 10 on your motorbike.
- If you’re a dek waen, you still think having a loud engine makes you cool (and that your body is unbreakable, thus, you drive sans crash helmet).
- You’re into the healthy lifestyle.
- You have a strong pair of legs/firm butt.
- You know what a fixie is.
- You’re 50 per cent more likely to roll down your window to share your choice of music because you’re such a tastemaker.
- Your popularity with friends spikes during Songkran.
- You call your car a “mer-see-dess-bennn”.
- You don’t drive yourself but get chauffeured around (exceptions are big-haired aunties who proudly — and slowly — drive around in their very old Benzes).
- You come from a long lineage.
- You’re a khun noo.
(POSSIBLE) FUTURE RULES
We understand that you may have a very good reason to buy a car but you should also know that Thai authorities have proposed or plan to put stricter measures into action to curb Bangkok traffic. Read them first and you may want to consider other options for getting around town just to skip all the hassle.
- Last month, the Office of the Ombudsman Thailand suggested many measures to counter traffic congestion. The most controversial idea is, however, fining people whose cars have broken down or been involved in accidents B100 per minute to encourage motorists to obey traffic laws and keep their cars in good condition, thus reducing the chance of accidents.
- The Metropolitan Police Bureau suggested an idea to ban cars that are seven or 10 years old on Bangkok roads unless the owners pay taxes as if their cars were new. This is still just a plan.
- This month, city police began using tow trucks to drag away cars that are parked or stopped in forbidden areas. An offender will be fined B500 first. Then he/she has to pay the towing cost (B500-B1,000 depending on the type of vehicle) and a daily fine (B200-B500) for each additional day their vehicle is parked at the police station.
While we have always maintained that driving isn’t the forte of many Thais, here are some stats to show you how unruly Bangkok roads actually are.
Here are some possible solutions notable Thais have come up with to tackle traffic congestion.
Narong Pomlakthong, an expert on transport, said levying taxes or fees on cars that travel on roads with heavy traffic could discourage people from using personal cars in the city. Such fees could be calculated based on traffic conditions in different times of the day and CO2 emissions of cars.
Samit Samitthinan, who ran for the position of Bangkok governor many times, suggested red and green traffic lights being turned on in equal amounts of time and getting rid of traffic islands in order to increase space for cars (but where would all the street dogs and hobos sleep?)
Topiaries on traffic islands make motorists smile
Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy chief Adul Narongsak proposed separate stop signs for taxi cabs, vans and public buses. This measure intends to prevent these vehicles from all stopping at the same spot and creating traffic congestion in the process.