Sunday, September 15, 2019

Better ideas needed to put helmets on heads

Dec 22. 2017
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By The Nation

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The government is loaning out protective gear this holiday season, abdicating the duty to instil discipline

A campaign launched on Thursday aims to make Bangkok a model for other Thai cities in terms of safety-helmet awareness. Naturally, it coincides with a festive period when road accidents typically spike. The idea this time is to “loan” helmets to motorcyclists stopped for not having one. It’s an intriguing notion, but we’re dubious that it could really help instil the driver discipline that has always been chronically lacking in this country.

Can loaning out helmets – or giving them away for free – have any significant effect in the long run? Thais in general are stubbornly against using protective gear of any kind. We simply don’t have the discipline, no matter how many times we witness the gear saving lives and limbs. We happily ignore the laws and the perennial safety campaigns. Traffic cops rarely pester us about helmets anyway.

As well, there’s a discouraging predictability to the latest campaign. Before every holiday period, the authorities unveil a fresh carrot and stick and promise that this time the measures will definitely reduce the number of accidents. If such measures work at all, the effect is brief. The diverse approaches tend to be implemented inconsistently and never get at the nut of poor driver discipline, thus guaranteeing that everything goes back to normal as soon as the police stop looking.

Thai motorists only comply with rules out of fear of arrest and fines. Helmets are worn not because of a genuine belief they can save their lives. Pestered by the cops, many complain that helmets are too expensive, and that’s why the protective gear is sometimes distributed for free or, this time, offered on loan.

Freebies are clever components of public-awareness campaigns, but they shouldn’t be the main thrust. Ending the road carnage will require heavy lifting, with awareness drives that are consistent, long-term and preferably targeting children still too young to drive. Loaning out helmets takes into account none of these prerequisites. It sounds very much like a flash in the pan, and the result will be just as short-lived.

The website World Atlas last month pegged Thailand as having one of the highest fatality rates stemming from road accidents, hardly the first foreign source to notice. It’s never a surprise considering the number of helmet-less motorbike riders and passengers plying city and rural roads.

Metropolitan Police Bureau commissioner Pol Lt-General Chanthep Sesawech, who presided at the launching of the helmet-loan campaign at Traffic Police Command in Bangkok, claimed that 75 per cent of the capital’s motorcyclists do wear helmets, and thus the campaign had a good chance of success. Bangkok could show itself to be a city that fully complies with the law, he said.

With all due respect, the commissioner should peer down more sois to see if his statistic is accurate. That’s where far fewer bikers wear helmets, in the absence of law enforcement, and that’s where the accidents take place. Out on the main roads, where there are more cops, everyone tends to be more careful. 

It’s in the alleys, where there is less need to fear the authorities, where the level of safety awareness is better gauged. Look there, and the signs are not good at all.

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