Got your attention?! It definitely got mine reading this- perhaps unbelievable? But true. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents (RTAs) kill more people around the world than malaria, and are the leading cause of death for young people aged 5 to 29 – especially in developing countries. Each year WHO estimates that worldwide 1.3 million people are killed on roads and up to 50 million people are injured in RTAs, globally.
Many of the students I see each year in our Travel Clinics travel to SE Asia, Thailand being a very popular destination and usual first port of call for most. Thailand has been classed as one of the deadliest holiday destinations for Britons. This is a direct result of fatal motorbike accidents.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) statistics show that between 1st April 2012 and 31st March 2013, there were 870,164 visitors to Thailand. During this time there were 389 deaths and 285 hospitalisations, this number has increased by 31% (a third) and was linked to RTAs.
Thailand is the 4th country in the world in which Britons are most likely to require consular assistance (behind Spain, USA and France).
I know when I was backpacking in my early 20’s around Thailand, I was not made aware of these dangers in my pre travel clinic appointment, and I was totally ignorant/unaware of these risks. So there I was happily zipping around on a scooter- in my shorts, flip-flops and vest, no helmet on- I can’t actually remember if I had any insurance to ride one! I had a few near misses, but fortunately I was lucky- nothing serious.
Like me, often tourists to hot destinations ride scooters with no helmet while wearing shorts, a vest top and flip-flops. Think aboutwhat might happen if you fell off your scooter- the risk of major injury and need for hospitalisation is significant. Also many backpackers, being broke, forgo travel insurance as well.
In March 2013, the Foreign Office launched a road safety campaign for driving abroad. The focus is very much on Thailand:
‘After deaths from natural causes, road traffic deaths are the most common cause of death for British nationals in Thailand and cause a high number of hospitalisations. The majority of RTAs involve motorcycles and scooters, although serious accidents also occur with other vehicles. For instance, in the past year a number of British nationals were involved in accidents whilst travelling by overnight coach.’
Mark Kent, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand, said:
“British nationals using the roads in Thailand should bear in mind that road laws and driving customs here are different from those in the UK and road conditions, driving standards and road traffic regulations can vary.”
So if you are planning on motorcycling around Thailand, as many backpackers do, what safety measures can you exercise?
*Make sure you can ride one safely first! Many people have their first try on a scooter whilst abroad and may not be familiar with the controls and how to ride one.
*Make yourself aware of the laws and driving customs in the Country
*Wear a helmet: Thai law states that safety helmets must be worn- this is widely ignored in Thailand.
*Ensure you have comprehensive, adequate travel insurance- due to financial pressures you may skip on travel insurance in a bid to save money- this may have significant repercussions in the event of any accident/injury.
*Check the small print of the lease agreement and don’t hand over your passport as a guarantee against returning a motorcycle or scooter. Unscrupulous owners have been known to hold on to passports against claimed damage to the motorcycle or scooter.
*Bear in mind, many of the motorcycles and scooters that are available for hire in beach resorts are unregistered and cannot legally be driven on a public road. This could invalidate any travel insurance policy should you wish to make a claim.
Finally… Do not drink and drive