Songkran Festival: Thai death toll hits 204 as revellers start returning

As large numbers of people yesterday started to travel back to work from the Songkran holidays - and many others continued to enjoy water splashing in their home towns - the Road Safety Centre said the first four days of Songkran had seen 2,027 road accidents, which claimed 204 lives and injured 2,142 people.

Chaiyaphum remained the only province with no road accidents this Songkran. Caretaker Deputy Education Minister Sermsak Pongpanit, in his capacity as the centre's chairman, announced yesterday that the first four days of Songkran (April 11-14) saw the number of accidents and injuries rise by 130 and 122, respectively, from last year, while the number of deaths fell by 15.

Nakhon Ratchasima has seen the most deaths (11), while Nakhon Si Thammarat has seen the most accidents (75) and the most injuries (82). So far, 12 provinces have seen no road fatalities - Mae Hong Son, Chaiyaphum, Yasothon, Amnat Charoen, Chai Nat, Nakhon Nayok, Phetchaburi, Lop Buri, Angthong, Narathiwat, Phang Nga and Yala.

On Monday alone, there were 488 accidents killing 43 people and injuring 502 others, Sermsak said. Drunk driving remains the major cause, at 43.03 per cent, followed by speeding at 22.34 per cent, he said. Most accidents involved motorcycles (78.23 per cent), followed by pickup trucks (12.30 per cent). Officials at 2,274 checkpoints arrested and fined 111,797 traffic-law violators, most of whom were bikers failing to wear helmets (36,511 cases) and those failing to present a driver's licence (33,310 cases).

Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department chief Chatchai Phormlert said the number of road-accident deaths had dropped significantly from the previous Songkran thanks to cooperation from all sides. He urged travellers to plan their return journeys well, to rest fully, and to check the condition of their vehicles thoroughly before travelling. He urged drivers to pull over and rest every two hours or every 150 kilometres.

In a separate event, Public Health permanent secretary Narong Sahamethaphat urged youngsters not to make prank calls to the ministry's 1669 hotline, as doing so could have deadly consequences, by blocking access to callers in need of life-saving help. Narong, who inspected a Nakhon Sawan hospital and an Ayutthaya hospital to check their emergency medical-care preparedness, said there were 40-50 prank calls a day, which was about 50 per cent of all calls made daily to the hotline.

Meanwhile, the Phuket land-transport office imposed a 30-day suspension of driver's licences for public-transport drivers who test positive for drugs, and will fine such drivers' companies Bt5,000. The office's expert official,

Jaturong Kaewkasi, said the office, police and provincial officials had set up checkpoints to conduct urine tests for drug abuse by public-transport drivers. From April 11-14, they imposed such punishments on two bus drivers and one van driver who tested positive for drugs. This was a hefty drop from the previous Songkran's 27 cases.

In related news, a Loei-Nakhon Ratchasima-Rayong bus overturned yesterday in Sara Buri's Kaeng Khoi district resulting in 38 injuries - one of them serious. The bus crashed into a roadside home and an electric pole, causing a blackout in the area. The unnamed bus driver initially told police that he lost control of the vehicle while trying to handle a curve on a slippery road amid rainfall.