EDITORIAL: Slapping incident just tip of traffic-woes iceberg

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Poor discipline among drivers is a big part of what’s become a mammoth problem

Social-media outrage can sometimes be misplaced, which was the case earlier this month when a Mercedes Benz owner overreacted to a minor accident – a young motorcyclist bumped into his car. The older man ignored the youth’s apology – and his explanation that he was rushing to sit an exam – and slapped and verbally abused him. 

Smartphone cameras – they’re always around, as so many wrongdoers seem to forget – captured much of the incident, and the Benz owner achieved unwanted fame online. The din that ensued on the social networks prompted him to offer a humble apology of his own, blaming his deplorable behaviour on stress. Fair enough, then – the matter is being forgotten and everything will return to normal.

But everything returning to normal is actually the bad news here. “Normal” means drivers continuing to abruptly change lanes and making sudden turns without signalling. It means under-age drivers will continue to raise the danger level on busy streets. The helmet law will continue to be ignored. Traffic police will continue checking for expired car registration stickers rather than cracking down on genuinely dangerous offenders. Pedestrians in places where the sidewalks are obstructed or too crowded will continue walking in traffic lanes.

Let’s be honest about the situation. 

First, a lot of traffic offenders are committing their offences because they have no other choice. Kids are riding motorcycles to school because it’s the only way to get through traffic on time. A family of four crams onto a motorbike because they can’t afford a car. Their children are too young to ride public transport alone. Motorcyclists shun helmets not because they’re heedless about safety, but because they have more pressing expenses. 

Secondly, however, a lot of road tragedies occur because of all these reasons. The alarming situation on our streets can be especially glaring at the beginning and end of school days, when young children ride motorcycles unprotected by helmets through alleys strewn with cars driven by motorists who are also in a hurry. Vendors in pickup trucks and on motorised carts add to the traffic frenzy, much of which is illegal – but it’s normal just the same.

So we’re faced with a combination of factors. Some people simply disrespect the law. Others are desperate. Public transport is often unsafe, usually crowded, can be too slow, and for some might be too expensive. Law enforcers lack focus and leadership. Corruption is widespread at all levels of society.

That slapping incident was bound to happen and is bound to recur. In a better world, the student wouldn’t have been on a motorcycle in the first place. The Benz man would have signalled when making his turn. His overreaction triggered a social-media meltdown, but what if the accident had been far worse and someone was killed or badly injured? Who would have been blamed? Should we be happy that no one was hurt worse, particularly the boy, who looked too young to be riding a bicycle on a busy road, let alone a motorcycle?

The authorities have on occasion suggested that the situation has become too chaotic to try and impose strict rules now. But the problem with circumstances being out of control is that they proceed to get worse. 

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