May 7, 2015
A Game of Chance in Thailand
Driving in Thailand isn’t quite as bad as its reputation would have you believe, but it still is not to be undertaken by the faint of heart. The rules of the road are pretty straight forward but there are a few things you really do need to know.
We drive on the left. On dual carriageways use the outside lane is for overtaking only, the traffic police will stop you if you hog the lane.
Most roads have a hard shoulder that may be used to stop if you have a problem they are not for parking. (It will also be used as a shortcut by motorcyclists travelling in the opposite direction)
A motorcycle travelling the wrong way has the right of way, or so they believe! This goes double for coaches who believe they own the roads. Oncoming vehicle attempting to overtake will force you to use the hard shoulder and it is in your interest to give them room. If there is no hard shoulder move as far to the left as you safely can keeping an eye open for vehicles also using the same bit of road to travel the wrong way.
A single solid white line on single carriageways denotes the centre of the road.
Single or double yellow lines means do not cross the lanes.
Short broken white lines means you can overtake
Yellow thatched means no stopping or waiting.
Lanes at junctions are marked on the ground to show which lane goes where.
Do not change lanes when coming to road tolls the police will fine you especially if you are a Farang.
Traffic lights are set at Red – Amber – Green.
Sometimes there is a counter attached to the traffic lights, which displays how many seconds to the next light change. Do not go before the clock gets to zero. If the light is on green do not take it for granted other vehicles will have stopped at their corresponding Red lights.
Be aware motor bikes will be cutting in and out of the lanes trying to get to the front of the queue and will swamp you if you are already there, give them enough time to pull away. It is also worth noting that vehicles pull away very slowly in Thailand this is in part due to the mass of motor bikes and the uncertainty of who will have jumped the lights.
Turning left: If the light is on red or green you may turn left but you must give way to traffic from your right. Do take care of motor bikes who will still try to pass you on the inside while you attempt to turn left. This rule has now changed and you have to look for road signs that prohibit you from turning left at a red stop light. A orange turn left arrow on a green background means you can turn left on a red stop light, a red turn left arrow on a white back ground and you cannot. Simple right?
When oncoming vehicles are both turning right they pass in front of each other. (Or not!)
If the light is flashing red you must use the crossing as an uncontrolled junction. You must stop and give way. If the light is flashing amber you have the right of way but must slow down and look both ways. (Do not expect others to do the same)
Roundabouts: At roundabouts give way to the right. There are very few of these in Thailand and so Thai people at times have no knowledge on what to do.
On quiet rural roads take extra care at night especially during national holidays as a good number of motor bikes will be driven by very young children with their driving skills hampered by their inability to reach the floor. Also be aware over the many holidays booze plays a big part in the festivities. If that were not enough you have to be prepared of agricultural equipment being driven at a very leisurely rate along with farm animals being moved to new pasture or simply left to wander along the roads.
Motorcyclists must wear a crash helmet and must have lights on at all times. While motorists sitting in the front seats of vehicles must wear a seat belt.
While there is a minimum age to drive a motor vehicle (18 years old and 15 years old for a motorcycle), you will see very young children driving motor bikes to school and passing police officers who conduct traffic control out-side of most schools, without the officer taking any action.
The speed limit is 80kph in Bangkok and Pattaya, (the likelihood of ever getting above 30 in these two cities is as remote as politicians telling the truth) 90kph in other cities, 90kph on intercity highways and 120kph on motorways. Unless the police can see you are a Farang and then it’s……?
Driving while using a telephone is illegal and carries an automatic fine. (Supposedly)
Kerb stones painted alternate black and white means no parking. Red and white means parking restrictions apply. These markings may also be on lampposts or other posts on the side of the road to which they apply.
The Legal Stuff
Hire insurance is normally third party and if involved in an accident you are responsible for damages.
Thailand requires an International Driving Permit or a Thai driving licence. Unlike most countries, there is no provisional or learner’s licence in Thailand. Not having a driving license carries a whopping 200 baht fine
There are ten types of driving licence issued in Thailand. Seven main types are listed and explained here
You must wear a shirt while driving a car. According to the Criminal Code BE 2499 (1956) Section 388, anyone “exhibiting his undressed person shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 500 baht”. (No Really)
One thing is for sure you will get stopped by the police for doing what everybody else is doing. Pay up and live with it.
The Thai Driving Test
Those looking to get a Thai car license are advised to set aside TWO full days for training and testing at the Department of Transport Office. (That’s it 2 days from first getting in a car to driving with a license with the law only requiring 4 hours to learn all the relevant traffic laws, driving etiquette and how to drive safely. This is to be increased to 15 hours in 2015)
Candidates are required to make an appointment for visual and response performance tests (this involves string and blocks of wood) and sit a four-hour legal road code and a defensive driving session. After which, candidates will be required to sit a written examination, one resit is allowed on the same day.
Upon successful completion, candidates move onto the practical examination.
Candidates are taken around the examination venue where the procedure is explained. The driving test covers:
- Driving straight forward and backward
- Two different types of parking
Candidates can have a friend walk by the side of the test vehicle and give verbal instruction to the candidate. The instructors do not sit in the vehicle and judge the performance from a safe distance.
The Thai Way of driving
The most incredible thing about driving in Thailand is that a people who are normally so lovely, friendly and forgiving turn into raving lunatics when driving a car and complete idiots when sitting on a motorbike.
Parking almost on top of junctions, double and triple parking, driving the wrong way and driving on the pavements are all illegal, but happen all around you, you can expect drivers to slow down without notice if they spot a street vendor selling something that they ‘must eat’. The biggest issue for me is the use of indicator lights which is uniformly non-existent with the result that you have little to no time to take action.
When you travel on the roads in the Kingdom of Thailand and witness the quality of the average driver, it is no wonder Thailand has the second-highest fatality rate in the world, only just pipped by Namibia and ahead of Iran according to researchers.
If you want or need to drive on the roads (or pavements) in Thailand, do not expect “Jai Dee” (good heart) as most of the people of this wonderful country seem to leave their heart at home along with their brain when they get behind the wheel or handlebars of a motorised contraption