Driving in Thailand

Driving in Thailand
Updated 2013-05-02 12:50

Driving in Thailand can be described as 'creative'. If you come from an industrialised urban country you will find that there are major differences in road behaviour here. Road rules are constantly disregarded and frequently not enforced by the authorities. That is until you are involved in an incident. Local applicants for a drivers licence undergo enough training to pass the tests. Actual driving skills are sadly lacking overall.


If you have a drivers licence in your home country you will also require an International Driving Permit obtainable from your local automobile organisation before you come to Thailand. This is valid for a year and you can drive on it legally. When the time comes to obtain your Thai licence you will be required to obtain a Certificate of Residency from the Immigration Dept. This states that you have a valid visa and a known address in Thailand. Cost at present B500. You will also need a health certificate from a nominated hospital. This is fairly easily obtained as the medical is not, in my experience stringent. Blood pressure, heart check, general health assessment. Approx B150.

You will need to obtain a form from the transport office in person and it will certainly help if a Thai person can accompany you if you are not fluent. Once this is filled out you are required to present your documents - Passport, International licence, National licence, Residence certificate and Health certificate. If these are in order you will be required to pay another fee ( currently B 150 ) and take an eye test for colour blindness.

After that a reaction test is required where you sit in a simulator and place your foot flat down on the accellerator pedal until a red light comes on in front of you. You are then required to put your foot on the brake pedal. Your reaction time is noted and must fall within a prescribed range.
Once you have passed that you will be photographed and must wait until the licence card is printed by a machine. The first licenece will be valid for twelve months and then you will have to repeat the process but this time the licence will be for five years. No driving test is required for the above process.

Driving Experience

However driving particularly on the highways can be hazardous as many Thai drivers seem to lack the ability to anticipate situations particularly at high speed. The speed limit on open roads is 120 Klm / Hr and many drivers have no idea of the safe spacing between vehicles or braking distances required at that speed.

The right hand lane is assumed to be the fast lane and if you are approached from behind by a faster driver they will often tailgate you very closely until you get out of their way. Also they may attempt to pass you on the left side totally oblivious to the slow truck just ahead until they run right up to the rear of it and apply the brakes hard as if it has just appeared in front of them by magic.They may then try and force themselves between you and the truck. Alcohol and Ya ba ( amphetamines ) may often be a contribiting factor to this behaviour. It is best to drive defensively and avoid retaliation - you are not here to teach driver attitude - your goal is to survive.

The concept of lanes on the road is also ignored so expect many drivers to corner across all lanes and even on the wrong side of the road around blind corners. Vehicles and particularly motorcycles frequently drive on the wrong side of the road against the oncoming traffic to avoid having to do the u turns which are spaced out along the divided highways.
Apart from the speeding drivers you may encounter ancient dilapidated farm pickups coming into town overloaded with cattle, cabbages or people. They are usually very slow but be aware that they are used to driving on the farm and often have no idea of road rules or traffic behaviour. They will frequently stop without warning, change direction suddenly or double park without any regard to traffic around them.

By far the biggest hazard is the motorcycle. It is difficult for the Government to get the riders to wear helmets despite punitive efforts by the police. Motor cyclists can do some incredibly dangerous things and move quickly in traffic. No matter what the rider has done if you are a Farang in a car it will be your fault if there is a collision. Usually the rider will come off second best in any encounter. Heavy compensation will be demanded by the family so it is best to be well insured if you drive.

If there is a collision the vehicles must generally not be moved until the police and insurance assessors arrive on the scene. You may see little white outlines painted on the roads at times, these are reminders that a collision has occurred recently.
My advice is to drive defensively and be very very alert particlarly for motorcycles swerving into your path without any thought that you are behind them. There is no room for ego on Thai roads and avoiding collisions is the main objective.

Good luck and safe motoring.

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