MOTORBIKES: Let’s get honest with tourists

PHUKET: Apart from the obvious need to fit all taxis and tuk-tuks on the island with meters, another pressing topic emerged during this month’s meeting between Phuket Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop and Phuket’s 16 honorary consuls: the need to give foreign tourists a better chance of returning home alive should they insist on renting a motorbike.

Casualty figures alone justify the need to keep inexperienced, unlicensed and often inebriated bikers off Phuket’s roads. In a single day last week, six people perished in motorbike accidents on the island, most of them still in their youth. [See front page story, current issue of the Gazette. Digital subscribers click here.]

According to police statistics for January, 18 people died in Phuket in 362 accidents, 219 of them involving motorbikes. There were also 321 people injured and property damages estimated at over 2.1 million baht.

Nurses in the West refer to the two-wheeled conveyances not as motorcycles but as ‘donorcycles’ because so many of the dead are young, healthy people killed instantly from head trauma, making them perfect candidates for organ donation.

As in so many other areas regarding tourist safety in Phuket, an instant improvement could be realized by simply enforcing existing laws. Anyone operating a motorbike in Thailand is legally required to hold a valid Thai motorcycle license. Yet this law is seldom enforced – and when it is, the riders simply pay a ‘fine’ before driving off.

Scores of motorbike rental companies in Phuket rent out bikes to anyone foolish enough to turn over his or her passport as surety. Most of these outfits, including some run by policemen, fail to mention to tourists the requirement for a Thai license. Some, when asked, deny outright that such a requirement exists. Imagine, then, the disgust of a tourist stopped at a checkpoint and having neither the license nor the requisite passport.  

Things get considerably worse for foreign visitors caught up in an accident, the blame for which is more often than not attributed to them.

The rental companies are also happy to rent out motorbikes to Thais, provided they hand over a Thai ID card. At as little as 150 baht a day, rental bikes are the vehicles of choice among criminals, who use them to carry out a range of crimes from murder to snatch-and-run operations.

As it is unlikely that the police will ever crack down on companies that hold riders’ passports or rent out bikes to people without Thai licenses, perhaps the law should be changed to allow foreign motorbike riders to ride legally in Thailand on a foreign motorcycle license. This might at least afford some increase in the odds of the driver having the ability to operate a motorbike and basic knowledge of the risks.   

An even better approach to keeping foreign tourists off motorbikes would be to provide them with the kind of safe, reasonably priced transport options so abundant in Thailand’s 75 other provinces.

Phuket News

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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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