Phuket Opinion: Despite the danger, reconciliation on the roads not likely for now

PHUKET: The Phuket Gazette wishes Phuket’s Land Transport Chief Teerayout Prasertphol the best of luck in his efforts to end the illegal practice of using salaeng (motorcycles with sidecars) to transport passengers.

But we think we’ll be seeing no reduction in the number if these cartoons on the roads – at least not during the current decade.

It is difficult to know exactly just how many salaeng there are on the streets of Phuket since the vast majority are unregistered and illegal, but as any Phuket motorist knows, the number is certainly high – and rising rapidly.

Another certainty is that despite taking up more than twice as much space as a normal motorbike, the few salaeng that are registered don’t pay one baht in extra road tax because there is no administrative mechanism to collect it under existing law.

Nor is it possible to collect any tax at all on the great majority of these 3-wheeled death traps because of their unregistered status.

Despite being unregistered, uninsured and almost universally unsafe, salaeng continue to be popular because they are the cheapest way to get people and cargo from point A to point B. A whole industry exists for manufacturing salaeng to customers’ individual specifications, and at least one well-known retail outlet in Phuket even has special parking spaces for them, as though they and their owner/drivers were privileged additions to our roads.

And maybe the run-of-the-mill three-wheelers are privileged indeed, in safety terms, when compared to the hundreds of “mobile restaurants” grafted onto motorbikes. We’ve all seen them wobbling their way down the road with vats of boiling oil bubbling away over gas bottles as red-hot charcoal cinders waft aloft. The potential dangers are far too numerous and well known to warrant listing here.

Police are quick to set up checkpoints and fine people for a variety of far less egregious traffic law violations, yet salaeng drivers are afforded a virtual carte blanche that somehow puts them in the same strata as high-ranking police officers or army generals when it comes to law.

How this strange situation developed runs part and parcel with Thailand’s political development, or lack thereof, in recent years. There is no question that a double standard exists for the upper echelons of Thai society and the poor. For the latter, the salaeng serves as a potent symbol, a fact not lost on the rich and politically powerful who use them without shame for campaign purposes to appeal to the masses.

Police have a clear understanding of the power of the salaeng as well, which is why existing laws regarding passenger transport are rarely enforced: the boys in brown do not want to be perceived as oppressing the poor.

Much has been said over the past week about national reconciliation. The real path to achieve this is to create a civil society where the same rules apply to all and no one is allowed to endanger others just because he or she has the misfortune to be poor.


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Legacy Phuket Gazette

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

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