The tragic death of an ophthalmologist struck by a powerful motorbike while negotiating a zebra crossing in Bangkok has exposed deep-seated flaws in traffic law, its enforcement and motorists' disregard for discipline. The death of Dr. Waraluck Supawatjariyakul, of the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, on Jan 21 at the pedestrian crossing on Phaya Thai Road in Ratchathewi district, sparked an uproar. She was struck by a Ducati super bike ridden by an off-duty police lance corporal, Norawich Buadok.
With similar tragedies before it, many were concerned the hype surrounding the incident would die down before anything was done. The accident touched a raw nerve as people struggled to make sense of the loss of life of a young doctor with a tremendous future ahead of her. At the same time, there was the irony of the guilty party being a law enforcement officer. This article aims to focus on the related laws and liabilities together with the potential solutions regarding the incident.
In this case, Norawich Buadok's liability includes seven charges, including negligence, driving on the right side of the road, driving a vehicle even though it is almost in a crosswalk, driving a vehicle without a registration plate, tax and Car Act, and failing to properly maintain a vehicle. This case is relevant to Thailand's Criminal Code and the Road Traffic Act B.E. 2522, which prescribes reducing traffic accidents caused by reckless drivers and ensuring the safety of people's lives and property. However, in terms of liability, Is liability appropriate for this effect?
Section 291 of the Thai Criminal Code states that negligence that causes death is punishable by imprisonment for no more than ten years or a fine of no more than 20,000 Baht. Furthermore, the liability in the Road Traffic Act states many of the crosswalks, for example, in section 21 states that the driver must accurately follow the traffic signal and traffic sign which is fixed or appears on the path, or in section 70 states that the driver who drives a conveyance reaching a junction, pedestrian crossing, stopping line, or roundabout must slow down. Mostly, this law describes liability for fines. The Road Traffic Act, which has been mentioned in relation to liability, actually describes fines and clearly enacted the crosswalk procedure. It does, however, take into account how people respect the law, particularly police officers who are supposed to enforce the law.
The solutions to this issue of traffic disciplines require not only the implementation of laws with strict liability but also people’s cooperation with the law enforcement to create better standards and safety for more lives. The lesson that should be learnt from the case of ‘Mor Kratai’ shall not be portrayed just as a mere renovation on the crossroads or traffic signs. It is widely acknowledged by a general person’s common sense that this problem shall be solved from its core, not superficially done to just make people forget about it.
In the aspect of the existing laws, as included in section 22 (4) of the Road Traffic Act B.E. 2522, it clearly states that “ the driver must give privilege to the pedestrian crossing the road or the conveyance coming from the right-hand side before.” In other relevant provisions, such as section 57, which tells that the driver must park his car in the area of the pedestrian crossing, or section 70, which governs the driver to slow down before reaching the pedestrian crossing. Accordingly, it could be seen that all these provisions have already regulated strict measures for the drivers to follow and prevent any unfortunate and dreadful circumstances. The same goes for the pedestrians, there are sections 104 and 105 which regulate their behaviors, including where and how to cross the road. Hence, apart from the law which has already been used as a tool to discipline people’s traffic behaviors, safety on the road could not be improved without cooperation from both the people and public sector.
According to the suggested guidelines preventing future traffic accidents, the responsible public authority shall immediately check on every pedestrian crossing’s condition to make sure that they are visible and safe enough. Also, traffic signs and lights shall be maintained and installed in certain places, especially in the community or school area. Most importantly, people, especially the officers, shall take the laws, regulations, and penalties more seriously than ever to create higher standards for every person on the road. Once people respect traffic rules more strictly, there will be less chance of accidents. Moreover, any person who observes any illegal actions against the traffic law shall be able to report to the responsible department to let the office check on those behaviors and prevent future accidents. Lastly, with the number of traffic accidents occurring consistently, the government, political parties, and public authority shall look into this problem more carefully and propose potential solutions to this problem as soon as possible.
Therefore, the case of Mor Kratai shall be a lesson for all people on the road to remind themselves that even though the laws exist and there are penalties, those punishments cannot be valued as much as the loss of one’s life. A strict and consistent compliance to the traffic laws is the responsibility of every single person that is seriously needed now. And hopefully, the society will raise the standards and manners higher in the long term.
Atiya Achakulvisut, ‘When zebra crossing becomes death traps’ (Bangkok Post, 25 January 2022) <https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/2252975/when-zebra-crossings-become-death-traps> accessed 8 February 2022.
Thailand Criminal Code B.E. 2499
Road Traffic Act B.E. 2522
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