The first accident, at about 9am last Tuesday (Mar 20), saw a van carrying eight Chinese tourists from a hotel in Patong and to Mu Ko Similan National Park in Phang Nga slam into the back of an 18-wheeled truck in Tha Noon, just over the bridge on the mainland.
Chinese tourist Yu Wea, 28, was killed in the impact, while the van driver, Jamrit Aryusuk, 36, from Krabi, sustained serious injuries and was later pronounced dead. (See story here.)
Less than 24 hours later, at about 5:10am the next day, Swedish tourists were among the injured when their minivan collided into a 10-wheeled truck attempting to make a U-turn and then slammed into a power pole in Takua Thung, just a little further down the road. (See story here.)
Both accidents occurred less then three kilometres from the Thao Thepkrasattri Bridge to the mainland.
Both accidents involved Phuket tourists taking tours booked in Phuket.
Lt Col Suttipong Todsong of the Khok Khoi Police in Phang Nga, who is the lead investigator for both accidents, says charges will be pressed.
However, speed is not the essence in his investigations.
Regarding the deadly accident last Tuesday, Col Suttipong said this week, “I am still questioning witnesses and victims. I can’t charge the driver because he is dead. I have to talk with the registered (owner) of the van and the company, they have to be held responsible and be charged on this accident.”
Col Suttipong refused to reveal any details from the GPS unit that by law must be installed in the van. He even refused to confirm whether the van even had a GPS unit fitted.
“I know that every van in Thailand must have GPS fitted, but I don’t want to tell any information to you (about it). That is the Phang Nga Provincial Land Transport Office’s responsibility.”
Regarding the Mar 21 accident, to Col Suttipong the cause of the accident was simple: “It happened because the driver was very tired and had not had enough sleep.”
Again, Col Suttipong refused to reveal any details that the GPS unit in that van might have revealed, or whether the van had a GPS unit at all.
He also did not even test the driver for alcohol or other substances.
“He did not seem drunk as his behaviour was not suspicious, so I did not have him submit a blood test or breath test,” Col Suttipong said.
“We are continuing our investigation to identify the cause of the accident. I can’t tell you more. Just know that I am doing my best.” he added.
Col Suttipong explained that it was the Phang Nga Land Transport Office’s responsibility to inspect the vehicles involved in both accidents.
“I agree that GPS information is good in helping to determine the cause of accidents, but for that information, you need to speak with the Phang Nga Provincial Land Transport Office. That’s all,” he said.
ON THE MOVE
Chana Likitdecharot, Chief of the Phang Nga Provincial Land Transport Office, was more helpful – and more serious – in his action taken.
“We checked the GPS of the van involved in the accident that killed the driver and the Chinese tourist on March 20, and on Monday (Mar 26) I sent a request to the Land Transport Office in Khon Kaen (where the van was registered) to revoke the public transportation licence of the company that owns the van,” he said.
Revocation of the public transportation licence means that the company that owns the van would not be able to operate any other public transportation services, Mr Chana explained.
The information from the GPS in the van showed it was travelling at 88km/h when the accident occurred, proving the van was speeding within a municipal area, he added.
Worse, the van carrying the Swedish tourists in the accident last Wednesday did not even have its GPS switched on.
“There was a GPS installed in the van, but it did not show up on our system at our monitoring control room,” Mr Chana said.
As the van in that accident was registered in Phuket, Mr Chana confirmed that he would be sending a formal request to Phuket Land Transport Office Chief Banyat Kantha to consider levelling a punishment for breach of road-safety laws.
“Whether the GPS was malfunctioning or having it turned off is an offence. It is necessary for the Director of Land Transport Office in Phuket (PLTO) to respond to this in accordance with his duty,” Mr Chana added.
However, despite repeated attempts by The Phuket News to contact Phuket PLTO Chief Banyat Kantha, he has remained consistently unavailable since last week to answer questions.
The head of the Technical Department at the PLTO was willing to speak to the press, but not to be identified by name.
“According to our records, there are about 5,000 vans in Phuket with GPS installed,” he said, though he did not elaborate on that figure compared with the total number of commercial passenger vans registered in the province.
He also clarified the PLTO’s position of vans registered in other provinces operating in Phuket. In short, it deems itself free from any responsibility.
“If vans from other provinces are used to transport Phuket tourists and are involved in accidents, other than depending on the location of the accident, it is not our responsibility. We do not have a policy (to be involved with) or respond to passenger vans in Phuket that are registered in other provinces,” he said.
“But we do respond (to issues involving) public vans registered in Phuket, and whether equipment in the vehicle such as the GPS unit is functioning properly or installed at all. The punishment for breach of this law under the Transport Act is a maximum fine of B50,000.
Asked whether the PLTO had even made initial enquiries into the van accident in Phang Nga in which the Swedish tourists were injured when a Phuket-registered minivan collided with a 10-wheeled truck and a power pole, the official said on Monday, nearly a week after the accident, “I will check.”
Thailand can expect yet another road-safety blitz in the wake of the double-decker bus crash in Nakhon Ratchasima last Wednesday night (Mar 21) which killed 18 passengers and left more than 30 injured.
Pressure to ramp up road safety is mounting with international media reporting the bus crash and especially so with the Songkran long holiday coming mid-April, traditionally one of the deadliest times of the year to travel on Thai roads.
WITHOUT A VANGUARD
Following the Nakhon Ratchasima crash, the Transport Ministry is even considering issuing a complete ban on such vehicles from operating on provincial and long-distance routes.
However, the Bangkok Post noted in its report that statistics compiled by the Thailand Accident Research Centre from 10,000 public service vehicles concluded that vans are twice as likely to be involved in accidents as regular, single-level buses. (See story here.)
And in Phuket, minivans are the mainstay of the how tourists are transported to and from hotels and tourist attractions throughout the area.
A slew of deadly van road accidents in and around Bangkok hit the headlines last year, prompting Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to order a transport-safety crackdown, which quickly resulted in the move to force all passenger vans to have GPS installed so that all van movements could be tracked – and the data used as evidence in pressing charges.
PLTO Chief at the time, Sommai Sudkaow, strongly supported the move, saying it would improve road safety and reduce accidents.
“The GPS can be tracked by our control room here in Phuket. Actually, every province has one,” he said.
“We have three officers each working eight-hour shifts, making sure there is someone on duty 24 hours a day. We can see where each van is, what course they have travelled and how fast they are going,” he added.
To Mr Sommai, the GPS units fitted in the yellow-plate vans, many of which pick up tourists arriving at Phuket International Airport, could be used to regulate the driver’s speed – but admitted the option was self-regulating.
“The van-service operators can set at which speed the GPS will sound an alarm, which will sound inside the van so the driver and the passengers know and it will send an alert to our control room,” he said.
Any incidents or complaints received by the PLTO officers in the control room are passed on to their supervisor at the end of each shift, Mr Sommai said.
However, the greatest pressure for drivers to reduce speed and drive safely might come from the passengers themselves through an app developed by the Department of Land Transport (DLT) and the Road Safety Fund.
The app, called “DLT GPS”, allows passengers – and anyone else – to enter a van’s licence plate number and check where the van is and how fast it is going, Mr Sommai explained.
People can also file a complaint directly through the app which will send the complaint immediately and directly to the nearest provincial control centre, he added.
“Complaints can include speeding, not travelling along the correct route, dangerous driving, overloading and overcharging. For example, if people complain the driver is driving too fast – we can then inform the driver to slow down – or take more serious action,” Mr Sommai noted.
Regardless, Mr Sommai, like his PLTO counterparts currently in service, decided on diminished responsibility when it came to enforcing the law on some passenger vans, in particular those used in providing visa runs.
Mr Sommai last year said that companies – such as visa run companies – are not covered by the order to have GPS fitted if the vans they use are registered as “private vehicles”, regardless of whether or not they are used for commercial purposes such as transporting foreigners on visa runs. (See story here.)
That “clarification” delivered a free pass to KBV Visa Run after one if its vans crashed on Dec 21, 2016 – killing three foreigners and seriously injuring eight others (See story here.)