Driving in Thailand as a foreigner

in #thailand2 months ago

Thailand has a well-deserved bad reputation for being really dangerous to drive in. I have heard that as far as road deaths are concerned it is routinely one of the worst in the world. It is easy to see why if you look around because people just kind of do whatever they want and no police are ever going to do anything about it.


The largest offense that I notice is that people on motorbikes routinely overload the bike (I see bikes with 3-4 people on them regularly) and more often than not, the passengers are not wearing helmets. Even the kids have no helmet on. Doing this in the West would almost certainly get you in trouble and if a minor was involved you could be looking at far more serious charges against you. However, over here nothing ever happens unless there is a police checkpoint and those are easily spotted and avoided.

In sillier situations, I notice that people actually do have a helmet with them in the basket on front of the bike, but will only put it on if they see a police checkpoint. Even then they rarely attach the chin-strap and it is a really cheap helmet that almost certainly wouldn't offer much protection if you actually did crash.


I'm not trying to tell anyone how to run their country but it seems like a lot of these road deaths could probably be prevented with a little bit of enforcement. In my city people just drive where they want, when they want, how they want and even if the police see them, it is extremely rare that anything is done about it. The checkpoints seem to be cash-grabs for outdated tax stickers.


I'll end on a lighter note. This sign is near my school and if you are North American I'll fill you in: The sign on the left indicates that the speed limit is 40km / hour and the one on the right indicates times of day that it is forbidden to honk your horn. I can personally attest to the fact that literally no one follows either of these rules and instead of 40km / hour it could say 4,000 miles / hour.... because nobody cares.

On a side note I always wear my helmet when driving my bike, not because I am afraid of getting a ticket for $8 but because I've become quite fond of my head, and would prefer to keep it


Wow. You must be in a different country to me. 17 years living and driving here in Thailand - I drive a pickup here in Chiang Mai. You need to grasp that all Thai driving comes from the idea of "flow" rather than a US police state model... and that Thai people overload their bikes cos that's all they have. And yes, the vast majority of road accidents involve motorbikes and tourists. Probably you should never go to Indonesia, the Philippines or Vietnam LOL...

Hoping you can put yourself in local & expat shoes more and not read everything in Thailand through the tourist glasses of an over-governed western model. Let's be honest.... NO school shootings here and a society that is simply so amazing that 40 million people a year visit and LOADS of people would give their right arm to live here.

seems I'm a little late to the long-winded conversation!

Jack, i have to agree with @artemislives here, this is a situation of unfamiliarity with how things "work" on the roads here and this is no fault of your own and I certainly don't mean this in any sort of negative way towards you.

I have seen so many people come and go in this country and one this always happens: Their shock and awe about the road situations here. I am American and when i first got here i was the same so I am not trying to be all high and mighty on you. It just, as I think artemislives is trying to say, takes some time to understand.

That being said, the helmet thing is something that has always baffled me as well but there is the very true point about the helmets that you are required to wear at times in this country not being terribly effective. I personally know a person that was wearing some $4 piece of plastic (perfectly legal) helmet when she was knocked onto the ground by a car and is now permanently in a vegetative state. She WAS wearing the government-required helmet.

I have been involved in an accident that would have definitely taken my life if I hadn't been wearing a helmet, but mine was not one of the minimalistic ones. I think it cost like $20 or so... i don't remember but I am glad i was wearing it because well, i'd be dead otherwise.

And this brings in my last and perhaps only point: I don't think that the Thai government or any government should be able (or even try to) mandate people looking after their own well-being. If someone wants to not wear a helmet at the potential expense of their own ability to continue being alive, I think that is (and should be) their own choice.

I've lived here (in Thailand) for 15 years and am still alive, because I exercise caution where I believe it should be but while I was living in the USA i got 100+ dollar tickets for busted tail-lights that i didn't know were out, not using my headlights during a daylight rain-shower, for having window tint that was too dark (in a state that was not my own,) and of course for speeding. And in that time of excessive police presence in my life, i had 2 car accidents. I've had none in Thailand despite the lawlessness of the road.

Sorry if that was too long, but i had to say it all!

While I haven't been here anywhere near as long as you I still think improvements could be made,i don't want it to be like Australia or USA where you are not allowed to do really anything. I do think that a vast majority of the road deaths could be prevented if people simply wore helmets, but they don't want to and no one makes them do it.

I'm not saying they should make them do it (and we both know that isn't going to happen here anyway). I just find it a bit crazy that most of the locals that I know are aware of at LEAST one person that is no longer with us because of a no helmet motorbike accident, yet still don't wear one themselves.

I would challenge you on the "vast majority of road deaths involve motorbikes and tourists" as tourists constitute a very small part of the fatalities.... but i'm not looking for an argument, just a statement of fact with the statistics.

I suppose my post looks like I am bashing Thailand. I'm not... I just don't understand why people don't wear helmets.

The longer you live here the more you learn about Thai people.... (1) they HATE hot sweaty things on their heads, (2) they are absurdly optimistic about lotteries, amulets and things never happening to them and (3) they aren't taught or trained to think logically. They're surprisingly childlike in some things, and refusing to wear helmets is one of them. To be fair, the Thai relatives I have personally lost to road accidents, it would have made NO DIFFERENCE if they had a helmet on or not. Getting slammed by a fast moving pick up, the helmet doesn't help. Also the helmets here are mostly not adequate to really protect, and the ones that are...? bloody expensive on a low Thai wage.

You'd be stunned how many tourists DO die and get maimed on bikes - we get a never-ending supply of gofundmes about them. Thai media deliberately suppresses.

It is what it is. Learn to drive in Asian flow. Don't ride a motorbike unless it's a big, powerful one. Scooters are death traps with no acceleration.

Your post hugely came over as Thailand bashing, and all that does is create resistance.

Enjoy the moments and your travels... and adjust. I don't recommend you EVER try to ride in urban Vietnam or Manila or Jakarta or Delhi though. LOL... Thai traffic might be crazy, but it's not aggressive.

well it wasn't my intention to sound condescending but i can see how it could be interpreted that way. Thanks for the info :)

@gooddream You are sooo much more eloquent than I was on this. Agreed. Thank you for the clarity.