EDITORIAL: Tougher measures must be enforced to curb Pi Mai Lao accident rate

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - People around the country are excitedly preparing to celebrate the Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao) over four days of rituals and revelry next week. 

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the usual road carnage, state and private organisations are working together to try to reduce the number of tragic accidents over the holiday period.

The government and the Mayor of Vientiane have issued regulations and prohibitions with a view to ensuring public safety during Pi Mai Lao, when people take to the streets to hurl as much water as they can over passers-by.

This year, people are banned from gathering in groups on roadsides to douse all those who cross their path. There is also a ban on carrying large containers of water on pick-up trucks for this purpose, as well as throwing plastic bags filled with water at road users.

In Vientiane measures are already in force against traffic rule breakers. Starting on April 1, drunk drivers who cause an accident will have their licence revoked.

Drivers found to have consumed alcohol above a safe level will have their licence confiscated for a period of one month with a minimum fine for their first infringement. Those who commit a second or third violation will face harsher punishments. But those committing a fourth drunk driving offence will face similar penalties to drunk drivers who are involved in an accident.

This is because most of the accidents that occur over Pi Mai Lao are the result of drunk driving and speeding.

To put these measures into effect, police will be on patrol on Roads 13 North and South and on other main roads in the capital. They will carry out blood alcohol checks and monitor motorists’ speeds on Roads 13 North and South, as well as direct traffic in the city centre.

Police have at least 100 alcohol checking devices and 10 speed check devices which they will use in areas where motorists are most likely to infringe the law.

Earlier this month, over 1,000 officials and schoolchildren took part in a walk in Vientiane to remind road users of the importance of safe driving. The event was part of activities organised by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and the Ministry of Public Security to mark Road Safety Week 2019. This year the theme was “Save Lives#SpeakUp”.

The overall purpose of the road safety event was to urge drivers to act with caution, with a focus on at-risk groups such as students and other young people.

Road Safety Week is aimed at reducing the number of accidents and maintaining safety on the capital’s streets. Every year the authorities introduce measures to try to lower the alarming accident rate, but this year police say they will clamp down on drunk driving and encourage people to celebrate the new year in ways that follow decorous traditions.

But the government has issued similar regulations and made earnest statements about road safety measures in previous years, all to no effect.

Over the three days of Pi Mai Lao in 2018, there were 207 road accidents nationwide, up from 159 in 2017.

In 2018, 29 people were killed in road accidents over the three-day holiday, up from 22 fatalities in 2017. 

In 2017, speeding was cited as the major cause of fatal crashes, accounting for 10 deaths, followed by drink-driving with 12 fatalities.

The accident rate hasn’t just increased over Lao New Year. Road accidents in the whole of 2017 were recorded at 5,868 nationwide, rising to 5,984 accidents in 2018.

The 2018 figure included 1,436 cases of drunk driving and 1,296 of speeding.

In support of the authorities’ efforts to reduce drunk driving and in the interests of public wellbeing, it is hoped that people will focus more on celebrating the new year in line with traditional customs and act responsibly.

If everyone took notice of the rules and made a point of not engaging in dangerous behaviour, more people would enjoy the festivities in safety and celebrate without putting themselves or others at risk, especially on the roads.

It is also to be hoped that, when the holiday is over, the police will report on the success of their efforts and assess the situation with regard to the effectiveness of the new rules.

As this is Visit Laos-China Year, we hope to welcome more Chinese to Laos, especially over Lao New Year. We wish everyone happiness, prosperity and good health throughout the Pi Mai celebrations.

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