The warnings come after The Phuket News receiving an increasing number of complaints in the past few months about police specifically targetting foreigners on the island for traffic violations. Many of the complaints have come from the Chalong and Rawai areas, and many specifically pertain to police stationed at Chalong Circle, just over 50 metres from Chalong Police Station.
While Chalong Police have for many years gained a reputation for specifically targetting foreigners, an approach understood locally as “shakedowns”, they are certainly not the only police on the island to do so while letting Thai drivers breaking traffic laws pass by unhindered – especially Thai motorbike riders not wearing helmets. However, according to local reports, Chalong Police have recently stepped up their efforts with particular focus on foreigners.
The warnings in the notice issued are bizarre in several ways that make it difficult to understand why they were even issued by police. It’s almost as if the Tourist Police – so often the good guys when it comes to helping tourists deal with the law – have received the same complaints and want it to stop.
Meanwhile, to outsiders it appears that regular police have been ordered from above to share the warnings through their own channels in some small attempt to preserve their public image by not being seen to ignore the issue. That is, for regular police, the warnings are much more easily understood as, “Don’t blame us if you’re fined by police while on holiday in Phuket.”
Of note, the notice issued by Patong Police featured the message, “Pol Col Sujin Nilabordee, Superintendent of Patong Police Station and Patong Police Station Traffic Division, has published [the warning] so that the public and tourists know and so that [rules] are strictly followed.”
This message only highlights the laziness of having both warnings in the same notice, targetting two very distinct audiences with the same message.
Col Sujin, tourists don’t care what rental operators are told. Also, police have already told rental operators that they face fines for not checking licences before, but previous “campaigns” have resulted in nothing more than a handful of operators checked in “photo op inspections” with no action taken. The only time Phuket police seem intent in enforcing this law is when a foreigner dies in an accident.
Further, Thais are rarely targetted for traffic violations except for during the national ‘Seven Days of Danger’ road-safety campaigns held every New Year and Songkran holidays, making it odd that the warning for “Drivers” was issued in Thai language.
The kicker is that if officials actually want tourists to know the consequences of driving a car or motorbike in Phuket without the proper licence, why would the police issue the notice? Surely if the message was aimed at informing tourists, the warning must be promoted through tourism channels.
Tourists check websites of Phuket hotels, tours and tourist attractions when choosing their holiday. If they are checking the police notices, something has gone seriously wrong with Phuket’s tourism campaigns.
For those who do not know, Thai police recognise driver’s licences issued by the Department of Land Transport in Thailand, and foreign licences endorsed by an International Driver’s Permit. That’s it. Local police in practice apparently are not obliged to recognise a driver’s licence issued by a foreign country, despite international agreements saying they should. If the officer does recognise the foreign driver’s licence, then the foreigner is having a lucky day.
Meanwhile, piling onto the problem is that police are not only fining foreigners for not having a valid driver’s licence, as evidenced by one complaint received by The Phuket News. One foreign woman was fined for not having the vehicle registration papers on her when she was stopped – yes, by Chalong Police near Chalong Circle. This infraction is not mentioned in the warnings.
Further, as another local resident in the Chalong area pointed out, the entrance to the Chalong Underpass, which passes underneath Chalong Circle, has no signs leading up to the tunnel in Thai or English warning that motorbikes are not allowed through the underpass.
Local expats may know this, but new tourists are certainly unlikely to. And where would they learn it? The one sign warning that motorbikes are prohibited from the underpass is posted right at the entrance to the tunnel when it is too late to change lanes and avoid entering the tunnel.
The one, lone sign makes it far too easy for police to wait at the other end of the tunnel and trap unsuspecting foreigners. Of note, Thais riding motorbikes through the Chalong Underpass are not overly common, but certainly not rare – and many riders continue the practice unaffected.
If Phuket officials are sincere in that they want tourists to avoid being fined for minor traffic violations while on holiday, they need to tell tourists, not locals.
Meanwhile, until that happens the best we can suggest is for all foreigners to post online when and where they were fined and for what infraction. That way we can do their job for them.