BANGKOK (Reuters) - More than 400 people died in road accidents in Thailand over the traditional new year holiday, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday, higher than the year before despite a new road safety campaign.
The ministry said 418 people were killed in 3,724 accidents during the April 11-17 Songkran holiday week, up from 390 deaths in the holiday period last year.
“The most common cause of accidents was speeding, accounting for 27.69 percent of accidents,” Deputy Interior Minister Sutee Markboon said of the holiday known as the “Seven Deadly Days”.
In April, when many Thais hit the road to visit family and friends, the government sets targets for reducing road fatalities and urges people not to drink and drive and to wear helmets on motorcycles.
Traditionally, Thais perform ritual cleansings, including of Buddhist statues at temples, to mark the new year but that has developed into what many people refer to as the world’s biggest water fight, with revellers throwing water at cars and motorbikes, which often swerve to avoid getting doused.
This year, the government launched a new road safety campaign dubbed “Drive with courtesy, adhere to road rules” and aired videos showing images of the road carnage.
But critics say the hard-hitting public service announcements are not getting through to people.
Emergency responders say traffic laws are rarely enforced and there is insufficient road safety education.
“Anybody can get a license,” said Sommai Nisungkat, 53, a Bangkok taxi driver.
“I see people on the road everyday who have obviously never had a formal driving lesson in their life. Anyone with a bit of money can pay under-the-table money to buy a drivers’ license,” he said.
Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Darren Schuettler