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Phuket Opinion: Fair game

PHUKET: The warning by police over agents renting cars and motorbikes to people without the proper licence – and warning tourists that they face a B1,000 fine for driving a car or motorbike without the proper licence – has raised eyebrows among some observers in Phuket, as the move appears to be trying to stem the rising number complaints over regular police targetting foreigners.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 21 August 2022, 10:00AM

The only sign informing drivers that motorbikes are not allowed through the Chalong Underpass. Photo: The Phuket News

The only sign informing drivers that motorbikes are not allowed through the Chalong Underpass. Photo: The Phuket News

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.

BDO Phuket

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.

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christysweet | 23 August 2022 - 23:57:30

A desparate tactic indeed to   confuse 'hate' with keen observational abilities expressed succinctly- that's what really riles the detractors.  

Fascinated | 23 August 2022 - 13:25:55

Ah Ms Sweet- arrange these words in any order you fancy- 'kettle', 'pot', 'black'. You seem to have a massive chip on your shoulder. You hate men, you hate Thais, is there any ray of sunshine in your embittered life?

Ash Ward | 22 August 2022 - 19:36:21

I have an international car and bike licence. I also carry my Australian car and bike licence along with my forklift licence, and always wear a good helmet.  The police stopped me some time ago....they don't bother me now, they flag me through.  I tell every tourist to carry their license and always wear a helmet.

christysweet | 22 August 2022 - 17:56:06

Or .. my opinion is widely shared  and some people just have to belittle and dismiss other's viewpoints because that's  all they have.  

DeKaaskopp | 22 August 2022 - 14:55:18

@christysweet     Or maybe you arrived here with high and wrong expectations and your own attitude towards Thai's made their smile to vanish ?

Kurt | 22 August 2022 - 10:45:39

Thinking about it, last 2 Covid years were financially terrible for police officers with their expensive houses, cars, etc. They really had to gear down, and seem to gearing up now with increasing nrs of foreigners arriving. Is it really true that they get 60% of the fines in their pockets? Was that a part of the in 2015 promised police reform?

christysweet | 22 August 2022 - 10:39:00

I arrived  to live on Phuket in  Dec 2006. By Feb 2007, it was apparent that Thais in Phuket generally  detest 'whitey' and are only nice  in order to extract cash. Once  sniffed out you are of limited means- the smiles vanish.   

Kurt | 22 August 2022 - 10:09:21

All comments here show how much 'anti-tourism' the RTP is + showing day in day out their selective corrupt face. Is itn't time for TAT to step in and start attacking this anti-tourism behavior of the 'brownies'? RTP damage Thailand's tourism reputation.

JohnC | 22 August 2022 - 09:23:45

It is clear that locals still live by the ridiculous notion that all farang are rich and easy targets for shakedowns. Just because somebody has money for a holiday here does NOT mean they are wealthy, merely good at saving up for a trip away. Sadly when they get to Thailand their pockets are never deep enough to last with almost every local trying to get a cut of your cash, legally or otherwise.

tykel668 | 22 August 2022 - 08:22:51

Worse thing about Phuket is the Police harassment. It's basically a fine for being a ferang, the ferang tax.

CaptainJack69 | 22 August 2022 - 05:55:30

Just look at the top of Bangla Rd. The hero's in brown stop every white person on a motorbike. It's so blatant and couldn't be in a more high profile location. They simply don't care what anyone thinks.

albuspotter1984 | 21 August 2022 - 15:14:48

What about the police overcharging for fines? The Royal Gazette states the amount for traffic offences, I believe, yet the police in Phuket seem to do whatever they want. Are the royal gazette guidelines just a recommendation and can be changed from province to province or something?

Nasa12 | 21 August 2022 - 12:27:35

The biggest problem are the RTP get 60% of the fine and locally Government get 35% the rest 5% going to Bangkok. To stop a local Thai get 0 bath in the pocket to RTP. They make some big money in Chalong, when traffic police can buy houses from 7 mill up in L&H Chalong, they need farang money. 

Capricornball | 21 August 2022 - 11:56:09

Thai police are worse than jet-ski mafia, beach mafia, public transport mafia, etc., as nearly all aspects of business on Phuket is controlled by some type of mafia, with police being fortunate enough to have oversight of all of them, thus getting their corrupt fingers in every slice of the pie. Police are the root cause of most serious problems on Phuket. They always will be.

christysweet | 21 August 2022 - 11:09:33

One of the requirements for a Thai license is a residency certificate and you  need a B or O visa for that, not a tourist exemption. Want to rent a car ? Prepare for Thai nickel and dime bureaucracy  on your vacation. You'll also need a  doctor cert declaring you healthy. 

Fascinated | 21 August 2022 - 10:26:31

A number of years ago I was informed that it actually costs more to buy the Chalong Police commander's position than the Patong one. Cleary shows which is the more lucrative one business-wise. A licence to print money.


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