The Songkran festival is a time for fun, worship, and merry-making, a celebration people look forward to all year. It’s also one of the busiest travel times in Thailand, which is why the Network of Road Safety implored the transport ministry to ban the use of double-decker buses during the Thai New Year holiday, citing safety concerns. Double-decker buses are often involved in fatal crashes on Thailand’s notoriously dangerous roads, and the Network of Road Safety and a group of academics fear more tragedies occurring at a time when millions will be traveling to visit their families for the holiday, according to Thai PBS.
Double-decker buses have been involved in a number of fatal crashes in the past five months, with 97 deaths resulting from the accidents, the group said. They attributed those tragedies to drivers being inexperienced on the hilly, winding roads on Thailand’s northern routes and to them driving over the speed limit. But the Bangkok Post reported this week that the construction of the buses could be to blame as well.
“Thailand’s intercity roads are too narrow, curvy and steep and most importantly, the buses, which are locally designed, are built only to serve consumers’ demands for luxury and entertainment, and not with regards to any standard of engineering safety,” that outlet reported. The article is filled with alarming information on Thailand’s safety standards and the lack of oversight on the buses. Among those are the fact that some buses are built with used chassis from vehicles that have been involved in previous accidents:
“As the chassis is typically quite expensive, they are often immediately taken out of wrecks, to be used again. …
“It’s well known that most double-decker buses currently in service on Thailand’s roads were probably built from used chassis in substandard garages in Ratchaburi’s Ban Pong district. Many of the used chassis come from vehicles that have just had an accident and without having any kind of formal inspection by an engineer.”
Vehicles taller than 3.6 meters are supposed to go through a 30-degree slope test to ensure their safety. However, the Bangkok Post noted that that standard applies only to vehicles registered after Jan. 1, 2013. Those registered before have until 2018 to pass the test. And, “out of the 17,588 buses that are required to take and pass the test, the department has tested just 1,250 double-decker buses so far, and less than 60% of those (705 buses) have passed the test.”
Another problem cited in the article is the fact that garage technicians assembling the buses are making decisions about its length not based on standards and decisions set by engineers.
The double-decker buses are popular among travelers because they are often more comfortable than smaller ones, with more entertainment options. However, many travelers likely do not realize that they are sacrificing their safety for luxury as the taller buses have proven hazardous time and again.
Caretaker Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunthas declared seven routes unsafe for double-decker buses, according to the Bangkok Post. These are: Tak-Mae Sot, Phitsanulok-Phetchabun, Kabin Buri-Pak Thong Chai, the Ang Thong-Sing Buri-Chai Nat section of the Asian Highway, Rangsit-Saraburi, Krabi-Phangnga and the Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son routes.
Many calls have been made for improved security on Thailand’s roads and with regard to the popular double-deckers specifically, but Thai PBS reported that as of November 2013, only 50 percent of vehicles over 3.6 meters had gone through supposedly mandatory testing at the Pathum Thani Large Vehicle Test Facility. That statistic appeared in an article about a double-decker crash in Phuket that injured 44 people in November last year. In that same article, Thai PBS reported that the, “Land Transport Department has been looking into the matter and they expected new safety standards should be forthcoming.”
But tragedies involving double-deckers have continued. Thirteen schoolchildren were killed in February when the bus they were riding to Pattaya crashed into an 18-wheeler and went over the shoulder. Thirty people died in a March crash in Tak province, when the double-decker they were on also went off the road. The BBC reported that, “Thai police said the bus was trying to overtake cars on a winding mountain road when it skidded and plunged into a ravine.”
In late March the Transport Ministry announced that it would implement toll exemptions for several major roadways from midnight April 10 to midnight April 16 as 10 million people are expected to be on the road for Songkran-related travel. Minister of Transport Chadchat Sittipun emphasized road safety when it comes to rental vehicles and the double-decker chartered buses, according to Thai PBS.
Last year, 321 people were killed and 3,040 were injured in 2,828 road accidents during the Songkran holiday, according to the Bangkok Post. Thailand has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world, largely because of motorbike accidents, though it has a dismal record on bus crashes as well.