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The Ministry of Tourism and Transport today hosted a meeting with relevant government agencies and with the private sector operating tourism business and car rental services in an effort to regulate the driving of personal cars into the country by tourists.
The move came as there is growing trend of tourists driving on their own cars, causing road safety concerns among local motorists because of different traffic lane systems, particularly tourists from China where driving is on the left while on the right in Thailand.
Increasing numbers of Chinese tourists driving through several Thailand’s northern checkpoints during the Chinese festival prompted necessity by Thai authorities to do something as the number of accidents caused by different driving traffic is also increasing.
Minister of Tourism and Transport Mrs Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said at present ASEAN tourists preferred driving on their own cars to visit Thailand to public transport, attributing to arrival figures of personal cars at almost all immigration checkpoints.
Particularly during the Chinese New Year festival, Chinese tourists drove into Thailand’s Chiang Khong border checkpoint in large number, and further their trips to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, she said.
Authorities will discuss the matter and see whether it is possible for them to leave their personal cars at the checkpoint and travel on rental car services instead, she said.
According to immigration authorities, Chinese tourists continue to come to Thailand, with most opting to drive into the northern region to tour the country on their own.
The record showed that over 4,000 Chinese vehicles have already passed through the northern immigration checkpoint in the past two weeks.
Their unfamiliarity with the right hand drive traffic system in Thailand has caused numerous accidents.
This has brought about legal difficulties for Thai motorists and is becoming a new problem that needed to be addressed.
Authorities said since the beginning of the year, many provinces in the Thai north have seen an increasing number of Chinese vehicles touring around town.
Chiang Mai province for instance, is now crowded with Chinese vehicles of various makers and models, and most have been traveling in a caravan.
In the past four months, over 6,000 Chinese cars have passed through the Chiang Khong checkpoint to Chiang Rai. But only the Chinese New Year festival, over 4,000 Chinese vehicles have entered Thailand.
One Chinese motorist Shi Yuan Ke, who has brought his family for a personal tour in Chiang Mai from Yunnan admitted at first it was kind of hard driving here, as he drives on the different lane of the road.
So he said he had to drive with caution on the right lane traffic system here.
Authorities said apart from their unfamiliarity with roads and finding their way around, most Chinese vehicles have been using the GPS which is not compatible with the Thai current road conditions or traffic regulations, prompting accidents to always happen.
One Thai driver who was hit by a Chinese driver about 3 weeks ago said his car was heavily damaged and the garage has estimated the repair cost at 200,000 baht.
He said that negotiation with the Chinese driver was also hard, as he needed a translator to do the talking for him.
But most importantly, he said the Chinese vehicles had no insurance coverage.
Until today, he has not received any payments for the damages caused, as the Chinese driver has already flown home.
What he could do now is to contact the local Chinese Consulate General to follow up on the situation for him.
Authorities said Chinese vehicles passing through checkpoints to Thailand usually have only a Compulsory Motor Insurance, which only covers compensations for when the driver is injured or die, meaning this does not cover any damages to the vehicles and causing following problematic situations.
Primarily, suggestions have been proposed to the Chinese Consulate General in Chiang Mai province to advise all Chinese vehicles passing into and out of Thailand to get a third-class insurance to ensure coverage for at least the other party in case of accidents.
Chiang Mai transport office Charnchai Keelapang said if they at least have third-class insurance, the Thai drivers who got into the accidents with them would be covered.
Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association chairman Pornchai Jitnawasatien also stressed the need to regulate driving by tourists by requiring that all foreign vehicles driving in the country must be insured for the safety of both sides.
He also said he didn’t think this would really increase the travel expenses for the tourists, as most of the Chinese motorists who drove their cars into Thailand are from the middle class and could afford the insurance premium.
Meanwhile the Department of Land Transportation is now writing new regulations requiring Chinese motorists to inform of their plans to travel in Thailand with their own vehicles ahead of time, as well as for them to have an international insurance coverages.