Why is this so important? Because it breeds an understanding that a driver’s licence is a valuable privilege – and this on an island where there are next to no real public transport options.
The attitude of drivers in Phuket towards traffic laws is so appalling that just during the Seven Days of Danger road-safety campaign during Songkran in April this year, 1,092 people were fined for not wearing seatbelts, 328 were fined for speeding, 471 were fined for ignoring traffic signals, 533 were fined for ghost driving (driving opposite traffic flow), 325 were fined for dangerously cutting off other motorists in traffic, 472 were fined for using mobile phones while driving and 501 people were arrested for drunk driving during the period.
Yet those numbers pale in comparison to the 4,566 people fined for driving without a licence. That’s in only seven days, and during a period when everyone knew that the police were out on the streets to actually enforce traffic laws. The only moving violation that topped that was 6,955 people on motorbikes fined for not wearing crash helmets.
People just don’t care about being caught without a driver’s licence, and why should they? The fine is up to one month in prison or a fine of up to B1,000, or both – but never fully enforced unless the driver is involved in a major accident. Now it stands to become up to three months in jail or a fine of up to B10,000, or both, though The Phuket News would like to see an option of converting jail terms to community service, to keep our overcrowded prison free from misdemeanour offenders and for those convicted to genuinely help the community.
Will the new penalty stop people paying their way out of fines? No. Nothing stops a bribe – or extortion – at the scene of the crime without the intervention of a third party, just like anywhere else in the world. But the new penalty will force the price higher with each infringement, and the last thing anyone would want in Phuket, or anywhere in Thailand, is to owe someone in uniform a favour.
With the new penalty there is hope for true road safety just over the horizon. Now there’s just one more thing left make the roads safer: actual driver training before a licence is issued in the first place.