Lt Col Thitiwat Asasing of Thalang Police Station was notified of the accident on Thepkrasattri Rd. in tambon Srisoonthorn at about 4.30am in the morning.
Having arrived at the scene opposite the PTT gas station in Baan Lipon, police officers and rescue workers found a blue Phuket-registered ’songthaew’ bus which had skid off the road and crashed into a sugar palm on the median strip. The vehicle had clear impact marks on its from and rear.
Not far away from the ’songthaew’ there was a white Bangkok-registered Toyota pickup truck. The extent of damage to the front of the vehicle was described by police as ’destroyed’.
Some 14 passengers of the ’songthaew’ – all Burmese workers – were waiting on the side of the highway together with Somchai Sukharom, the 61-year-old bus driver. Police did not say anything about the driver of the white Toyota pickup.
Rescue workers from Srisoonthorn Municipality, Paklok Municipality and Kusoldharm Foundation Muang Mai Branch provided assistance to the injured Burmese workers before taking them to hospitals, name by police as Bangkok Hospital Phuket, Bangkok Hospital Siriroj, Mission Hospital Phuket, and Thalang Hospital.
The route designation on the bus indicated that the vehicle should be servicing the route between the Sarasin Bridge on the northern tip of the island and Phuket Town. Yet 4.30 am is well before the regular service hours.
Mr Somchai told police officers that he was taking migrant workers to Phuket Town Fresh Market when the accident occurred. According to Mr Somchai, the pickup truck rear-ended his bus which resulted in the iconic Phuket vehicle skidding off the road and crashing into a sugar palm, also an iconic element of Phuket’s main highway’s image.
Police officers recorded Mr Somchai’s statement and are now proceeding with their investigation of what might have caused the accident.
For years questions have been raised about the safety of Phuket’s blue ’songthaew’ buses and in general the use of trucks and pickups to carry passengers in their cargo compartments.
Amid the 2016 Songkran campaign against carrying passengers in the backs of pickup trucks – a common practice across Thailand – the then Chief of the Phuket Land and Transport Office (PLTO) Banyat Kantha assured The Phuket News that there was nothing wrong with the practice.
“Section 21 of the Vehicle Act B.E. 2522 (1979) was amended in 2003 so that a private vehicle such as a private pick up truck – with vehicle weight of not more than 1,600 kilograms – may be used as a private car and is permitted to carry more than seven passengers,” he explained.
Mr Banyat also added that only the driver and the passenger riding ’shotgun’ in the cabin were required to wear seatbelts for safety.
“Passengers in public transportation vehicles such as tuk-tuks and songthaew (trucks or pickups converted to carry passengers) are not required to wear seatbelts as these vehicles are not installed with seatbelts for the back passengers. Drivers and front seat passengers in these vehicles, however, do need to wear seatbelts,” the PLTO Chief said.