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Everybody who lives in Koh Samui is aware of the dangers on the islands roads and despite so many deaths many choose to still ride without a helmet. Many of the helmets provided by bike hire companies are not very substantial but despite common criticism that they would do nothing to protect you in the event of an accident something is better than nothing. They are better than nothing. It may prevent you having some of your face scraped away, losing an ear, or worse.
A drivers license and a crash helmet are legal requirements however very few road users have both. You will not be asked to produce a license when hiring a bike. It is also illegal to ride/drive whilst intoxicated. But it is worth remembering that your medical or travel insurance WILL be VOID in the event of a bike accident that you have when you are not wearing a helmet.
Although the standards of care at the private hospitals, and indeed the government hospital are good, private hospital treatment is expensive and in fact the services offered on the island are limited. Being airlifted to Bangkok where more specialized treatment is available is an option but it is a very expensive one, and the idea that you can fly back to your own country for treatment if you cannot afford it in Samui is useless if you are not fit to fly.
As well as many people choosing to not wear a helmet, many choose to ride without adequate protection in terms of clothing. An article on TripAdvisor reminds us that Yes you want to show off that new tattoo, but is anybody but you really interested? You are likely to lose it anyway when you hit the road, and you will almost certainly end up with painful sunburn, accident or not. Cover up.
Although many of the roads in Koh Samui have been upgraded even a moderate fall of rain will produce localised flooding. Beneath the water are dangerous potholes, broken road surfaces, sunken drain-covers, or drains with no covers at all. Follow in someone’s tyre-tracks. Let them be your guide.
If you are going to ride a bike then please remember to use both brakes. Most new riders and almost all of the Thais ignore the front brake. The only time you do not use the front brake is on loose road surfaces, sand etc. There is a lot of sand on Samui’s roads, usually getting worse after rain. Be careful. Correct tyre pressures are important, they should be checked with a gauge. This seldom happens on Samui. Insist on the correct pressures.
In the event of an accident you will have to pay for the damage to the hire bike. If it is going to be off the road for any length of time you may have to pay the owner compensation for loss of income. If involved in an accident caused by a Thai you have almost no claim to any type of damages, and it could end up costing you big money. The local Police are not a lot of help. Their thinking is, ‘If you were not here it would not have happened.’
Do what you know is right. Just because someone else comes at you on the wrong side of the road with no lights on does not mean that you have to do the same. And it is important to expect the unexpected. The driving habits of many of the people that use the roads in Koh Samui are at best erratic and kamikaze style maneuvers are common place. Be particularly careful around the roundabout in Chaweng near the lake road, very few local riders have any clue whatsoever about the roundabout rules that are used in the west and it is highly unlikely that anybody will give way at the appropriate junction. Another thing to remember is that when somebody flashes their lights at you, this does not mean they are giving way as it does in the west, but rather, I am coming though so get out of my way. You will never know if the driver of the car that is flashing is Falang or Thai, so to avoid danger assume it is Thai and follow the get out of my way procedure rather than have an accident.
The roads in Samui are out of control. There is absolutely no traffic enforcement of any kind. It results in up to 30 road deaths per month, on Samui alone. Most are on bike. The police and the government absolutely refuse to do anything to improve the situation. There is no policing of speed limits or drink driving rules and there are only a hand full of checkpoints on the odd day here and there to enforce helmet use.
Thailand has completely failed, when it comes to traffic enforcement and safety standards, and it has resulted in one of the highest fatality rates per capita, in the world. Although cameras have been installed on most major intersections in Samui it has done little to curb the accident rate.
Another thing worth noting if you are new to the island is that you can turn left on red at traffic lights.
Although everybody has the right to chose what they wear, how they drive and whether or not to wear a helmet, and risk their life, sometimes it is worth taking a second to reflect on how much loved ones suffer, for the rest of their lives, when they have lost somebody they love though an avoidable accident on the roads on the island. It is also worth remembering how many families have had to sell their possession and sometimes their homes to pay for the hospital treatment of loved ones who were either not insured, their insurance did not cover their full bill or their health insurance was invalid due to no license, helmet or driving while drunk.
The British Foreign Office offers this advice
You can drive in Thailand using an International Driving Permit or Thai driving licence.
124,855 people were killed in road traffic accidents between 2000 and 2010 meaning that on average there were over 12,000 deaths a year during this period. In the UK there have been on average about 3,000 deaths from road traffic accidents each year over the past decade. In any comparison of these statistics, you should also note that there is a difference in the method of calculating statistics for road deaths in Thailand (at the scene of the accident) and the UK (within 30 days of the accident). The risk of death or injury on the road increases if you travel at night.
With motorcycles so widely used in Thailand the majority of road traffic accidents involve motorcycles, contributing to around70% of all road deaths. If you’re riding a motorcycle in Thailand take extra care. According to Thai law, safety helmets must be worn.
Serious accidents involving other vehicles including cars, coaches and mini-buses also occur. Many accidents are due to poor vehicle and driver safety standards. There have been a number of accidents involving overnight coach travel. In June 2011, 3 British nationals were killed in an accident involving overnight coach travel, in July 2012, 2 British nationals were injured in an overnight coach crash and in February 2013, 3 British nationals were injured in an accident involving overnight coach travel. Seek local advice if you are in any doubt about the safety of your transport provider.
Motorcycles or scooters for hire in beach resorts are often unregistered and can’t be used legally on a public road. Before you hire a vehicle, make sure you’re covered by your travel insurance and check the small print of the lease agreement. Don’t hand over your passport as a guarantee against returning a motorcycle or scooter. Unscrupulous owners have been known to hold on to passports against claimed damage to the motorcycle or scooter.
Riding ‘Quad-bikes’ can also be dangerous. It is illegal to drive these on the roads in Thailand even though they’re available to hire on the roadside.
Many of the residents of Koh Samui are seriously fed up with the death toll, that costs lives and makes Samui look really bad in the eyes of tourists, some of whom choose not to come to the island as it is gaining a reputation for being dangerous. We all have a responsibility to drive carefully and try to encourage our friends and family and visitors to the island to be aware of the dangers and drive carefully.
One lady who witnessed a horrific accident on Koh Samui told her story in this moving article.
With hundreds of people dying and being seriously injured on the roads of Koh Samui every year, is it not time that someone is called into accountability for this?
The widely recognized definition of ‘police’ is a body of people who not only are intrinsic in the prevention of crime, but one that protects the health, safety and well being of the community in which they have force. How then, one must ponder, is it that in a place where the population more than doubles during tourist seasons and one where the rate of road traffic accidents is widely recognized as one of the most dangerous on the planet, is not more being done to prevent these horrific accidents from happening?
Speak to any long term Samui resident and they will no doubt be able to regale you with stories of the aforementioned horrific accidents that they have either witnessed or heard of. As a long time resident myself, I too have seen my fair share, during the sometimes unavoidable drive by following such an event. These accidents haven’t just involved foreign visitors, but locals just the same. They don’t always (but admittedly sometimes) involve drunk people. Even if they do, should the people involved deserve any less sympathy, because they made an unfortunate choice, when the very people there to ensure this kind of behavior IS policed, fail so terribly to do their job? The answer, to my mind, is a resounding NO! In a place where so much money pours in on a yearly basis, would it not be more wise to have visible policing of road safety and billboards showing just what can happen if you make the choice to ride around on motorbikes without helmets and protective clothing? The answer to this is surely a resounding YES!!
In my experience here, I have come to believe that the general opinion is that the tourist industry must be protected at all costs; including the cost of losing life or limb. What is being failed to recognized is that most people would actually appreciate this information; it would make them feel more considered and cared for and give them information that they REALLY DO NEED. Samui is a paradise and as such has the wonderful effect of making people leave their cares and worries behind, feel free and enjoy themselves. This is fantastic, this is great and a fantastic accolade for a place to have in a world where stress, pressure and worries become more and more pressing everyday; but not at the cost of basic common sense! Inform people; let them know the dangers and in doing so let THEM make the informed choice. If they choose not to, then one cannot interfere with free will, but surely by making the potential dangers known, you will, in fact, increase the amount of people that want to visit here, just by way of giving them, their safety and life a value.
I write this in the wake of seeing the most horrendous accident I have witnessed during my time here. I arrived at the scene of an accident, only moments after it had happened, where an 18 year old girl had had her leg ripped off at mid thigh, following a low speed accident. She was wearing flip flops and hot pants and no helmet. If she and her family had been truly aware of the multitude of dangers facing her here, would they have let her on a bike in such attire, if at all? If her mother could have possibly conceived of the idea that she would be in a foreign hospital, facing her daughter’s death at worst, loss of limb at best, would she not just have rented a car to minimise this? Of course she would. People make ill informed decisions every day, it is part of human nature wherever you are, but surely it is the responsibility of the people who police a community to make ALL people aware of the real dangers of a place!
The sad, sad fact is, that on Samui this is not in place. What also struck me about this particular incident was the lack of compassion shown by the various different ambulance service providers that showed up to the accident. The main topic of discussion was whether the girl, who was injured and bleeding to death by the side of the road, had insurance! When doctors qualify, they take the hyppocratic oath, the main subtext of which is that saving a life is paramount to all else. Had I not been there at this horrific scene, and been able to translate between the friends of the girl and said ambulance services, the result could have been that she died there on the roadside instead of being rushed to the best equipped medical facility on the island, to have her leg reattached and the possibility of not only her life, but a chance at a normal one at that! Where did humanity get lost here?
Considering both the volume of tourism and road traffic accidents, would it not make more sense to have a publicly funded and central emergency service system here, to provide a human service without prejudice? Life has a value. Maybe not to everyone, but to the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children of anyone involved in this kind of thing, then yes it does. As a mother myself I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I NEVER want to be in the position of the mother of the girl whose accident I saw had to witness..watching her rapid deterioration into hell as she realised her daughter might die or lose her leg; that is something I would never wish on even my worst enemy.
So the question comes back to who is responsible? Is it the tired Thai lady, on her way home from work, who, in a split second took her concentration from the road, just as two fun filled and care free young tourists passed her car, with devastating results? No, it is the responsibility of the local authorities to manage; police and inform people of the dangers. Make people aware. Insist on the correct head ware and clothing to be worn. Don’t treat the lack there of as an opportunity to make money. See the value in life. Recognise the value that resides in family. Take care of the people who bring you the most, because without them Samui should just go back to being a coconut farming island. Complacency in this regard has no place anywhere, let alone in one that does in fact attract thousands of unsuspecting people. People who have families, jobs, education and LIVES. Samui, you are an amazing place, but please, for the love of God, Buddha, Allaah, or whoever you worship, PLEASE sort this out. To all of you who live in and visit this paradise, please be safe.
Emma Jane Nacey