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Opinion: Privatized driving tests – driven by cash, or care?

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: The move by the Department of Land Transport (DLT) to privatize driver’s licence testing is a practical idea (story here), but one that is unlikely to have much impact on the dismal road-safety standards that keep Thai roads among the most dangerous on the planet.

For years, going through the process of obtaining a car or motorbike driver’s licence at the Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO) has been a virtual rite of passage for eager Thai youths and older expats, who have found themselves going through the same time-consuming process side-by-side.

The sight of helmetless, underage youths riding motorbikes is so common here that it is safe to say that the vast majority of Thais have a great deal of “practical” road experience by the time they reach the legal ages for applying for their licences: 15 for motorbikes, 18 for cars.

As Thailand ranks second in the world for road traffic fatalities, it goes without saying that a large number of youths die in road accidents before they reach those tender ages.

Despite this, the main motivation for most local youths applying for their first motorbike licence has less to do with safety than it does with avoiding fines at police checkpoints.

During the “Seven Days of Danger” road-safety campaign over the Songkran holidays last year, more than half of those fined or arrested were caught driving without a licence.

Thus, getting a licence falls under the same incentive scheme that compels motorbike riders to pop on a helmet when approaching a spot where the boys in brown might be lurking.

Due to the lack of public transport options in Phuket, many foreign visitors choose to rent motorbikes as a cheap and convenient, albeit dangerous, way of getting around.

As most rental operators continue to illegally demand passports as surety – and could care less if the customer had a valid licence – hardly a month goes by without at least one foreign visitor being sent home in a body bag after a motorbike accident.

In cases involving unlicenced foreigners on rented bikes, police should immediately question the rental operators after they collect the fine.

The road-safety situation in Phuket could improve overnight if police started enforcing more of the comprehensive set of traffic laws that applicants need to learn in order to acquire a licence.

Sadly, there is a abysmal gap between practice and theory when it comes to operating a motor vehicle here.

If the plan does go through and the cute testing track at the PLTO falls into disuse, it will also spell the end of another phenomenon unique to Phuket: the site of newly-licenced teens riding out of the PLTO parking lot, ripping off their helmets and popping a wheelie as they race down the streets of Saphan Hin in jubilation.

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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