Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Thailand, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
In Thailand, traffic moves on the left, although motorcycles and motorized carts often drive (illegally) against the traffic flow. The city of Bangkok has heavy traffic composed of motorcycles, bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, and three-wheeled tuk-tuks. For safety, if you are walking, use overhead walkways whenever possible and look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even if using a marked crosswalk with a green "walk" light illuminated. This is particularly true in front of the U.S. Embassy on Bangkok's Wireless Road and on Sukhumvit Road, where many pedestrians have been killed and several U.S. citizens seriously injured while crossing the street. The Embassy has instructed its employees to use the pedestrian bridge to cross the road at all times, and we advise you to do the same anywhere a pedestrian bridge is available. It is common for scooters and motorbikes to “jump the curb” and ride on the sidewalks during rush hour and other periods of thick traffic. Be wary of this phenomenon while walking on the sidewalk in Thai cities.
Traffic accidents are common in Thailand, and those involving motorcycles can be particularly deadly. The Embassy strongly recommends Embassy staff and family members not use motorcycles (especially motorcycle taxis), mopeds, and tuk-tuks in Bangkok, and we advise you to follow this recommendation as well. Use of motorcycle helmets is mandatory, but this law is seldom enforced. The accident rate in Thailand is particularly high during long holidays, when alcohol use and traffic are both heavier than normal. During the Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday in April, the problem is worsened when people throw water at passing vehicles as part of the traditional celebration. Watch out when opening car doors, even on the curb side. Motorcyclists and bicyclists often try to slip between the curb and stopped or slow-moving cars, and they collide with doors that are being opened. If you opened the door, you may have to pay for the damages, even if the accident was not your fault.
Paved roads, many of them four lanes wide, connect Thailand's major cities. On the country's numerous two-lane roads, slow-moving trucks limit speed and visibility. Speeding, reckless passing, and failure to obey traffic laws is common in all regions of Thailand. Commercial drivers commonly consume alcohol, amphetamines, and other stimulants. Serious bus crashes occur frequently, especially on overnight trips, and sometimes result in fatalities.
Congested roads and a scarcity of ambulances can make it difficult for accident victims to receive timely medical attention. Thailand requires that all vehicles be covered by third-party liability insurance for death or injury, but there is no mandatory coverage for property damage. The Embassy strongly encourages its employees to obtain liability insurance coverage over and above the minimum third party liability insurance required by the Thai government. You should consider this as well, as the more affluent driver, even if not at fault, is frequently compelled to cover the expenses of the other party in an accident in Thailand. If you have a traffic accident, you should contact your insurance company for guidance in dealing with the other party and the police.
In Bangkok, the BTS "Skytrain," “Airport Rail Link” elevated mass transit systems, or the underground MRT system are reliable, inexpensive, air conditioned, and often faster than trying to travel through Bangkok traffic. Bangkok also has an extensive bus system, but buses can be overcrowded and are often driven with little or no regard for passenger safety. Privately operated vans carrying 8-15 passengers have become increasingly popular since 2007, both within Bangkok and to and from other cities. However, these vans are not clearly regulated, the drivers are sometimes reckless and untrained, and it is not always clear who owns and operates the vans. Cities elsewhere in Thailand typically have only rudimentary public transportation and usually do not have metered taxis. In many cases, motorcycle taxis, tuk-tuks, bicycle-powered rickshaws, and pick-up trucks will be the only options available for travelers without their own transport. You should be cautious when using these services, as all can be dangerous in fast or heavy traffic.
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