Do you have a car license? Probably you do. How about a motorcycle license? A proper one, not some European car license add-on for small bikes? Maybe you don’t – but you don’t really drive a motorbike at home anyway, right? As for your holiday in Thailand, it looks very appealing to just rent one of those cute scooters for a couple of Euros or Dollars a day and ride it around some paradise island, from one dream beach to the next.
You probably won’t wear a helmet, maybe you don’t bother putting on proper shoes, maybe not even a shirt. After all, it is freakin’ hot here, right? And you’re in good company – each day, hundreds, if not thousands of tourists drive around Thailand without a proper license (those European car license add-ons I mentioned are NOT VALID here) or protective clothing (when in Thailand, do as the Thais do, right?). And each day, motorbike accidents happen en masse, claiming many victims. But seriously, how likely is it that you’re one of those? you’ll probably say. To which I have to reply: Likelier than you think, unfortunately! Because Thailand’s streets are amongst the deadliest in the world. Thailand has the second-highest rate of fatalities in traffic accidents worldwide! Each day, 70-80 people die here because of traffic accidents. And btw, 75% of them are motorbike drivers.
A lot of westerners riding Thailand’s streets haven’t been riding motorbikes before – therefore they have no idea how to behave in challenging situations. Add recklessness, a distraction because of the oh-so-beautiful-view, the unfamiliarity with driving on the left side and a lack of protective clothing, and you have one deadly recipe. As for Thais: In order to obtain their driver’s license, one has to attend a 3-hour-theory class, a theoretical exam with – quite frankly – pretty ridiculous questions and an equally ridiculous practical exam.
Bad road conditions
Sand on the streets, giant potholes, stray dogs jumping out of nowhere, hairpin-bends, ruthless jeep drivers, crazy speeding bikers and a general disinterest towards traffic rules make up for a pretty challenging road situation. Street maintenance by the government is quite infrequent. Gravel roads are common on islands and in rural areas.
Lacking traffic law enforcement
Common offenses like riding a motorbike without a license and/or helmet are met by a fine of 200-400 Baht (about 8 Euros). Alcohol tests are rare. Rental bikes usually come without helmets, and renters are not interested in customers’ driver’s licenses, as long as they pay up. No one cares if you wear a seatbelt in your car. And if you decide to balance your infant on one knee and your dog on the other while texting and speeding down a dirt road on your motorbike, well, no one here is stopping you!
Don’t forget your brain when riding a bike!
- When renting a bike, check if the brakes work properly
- Inspect the condition of the tires (low tread equals skidding)
- ALWAYS wear a helmet (preferably a proper one, not those jokes with leather coating and a small chin strip)
- If possible, get a helmet with ventail (priceless on dusty roads)
- Always scan the road ahead for potholes
- Wear sneakers instead of flip flops
- Don’t go faster than 40 km/h on unfamiliar and 50 km/h on familiar roads
- Don’t get distracted by your surroundings, no matter how breathtaking the view
- Always check if there is someone behind you in case you suddenly have to dodge a pothole or a sleeping dog
- If your bike has an open basket, don’t put valuables in it, as someone might try to snatch them
What does that have to do with licenses?
While having an accident and getting hurt during what should be the time of your life is bad enough as it is, there is also the financial aspect of being involved in a crash. And that is where your license comes into play. Your insurance won’t cover your hospital costs if you got hurt while riding without a license. (Some insurance companies even refuse to pay if you have been the passenger of someone riding without a license!). And hospital costs climb up to five figures – Euro/Dollar, not Baht! – incredibly quickly. If you need or want to get treated back home, a return transport with medical care from Thailand to i.e. Austria costs about 20.000 Euro. And even if the accident was not your fault, most Thais are all too quickly on blaming the “Farang” (Foreigner) for faulty driving – so you’ll most likely end up having to pay for damage done to your and the other vehicle anyway. And the hospital costs for everyone involved – probably for you to take care of too. A Thai license puts you in a far better position when it comes to negations as to who is at fault; possessing a license at all might get your insurance to pay for the damage and hospital costs.
Will I get treated at all if I don’t have money or an insurance?
Yes, public hospitals (=government hospitals) in Thailand provide free treatment. But note that medical care is kept to a minimum and only includes treatments that are absolutely necessary. Depending on your injuries and condition you might need further care that will come at a fee. You will be informed upfront about the price of those treatments. If you need an ambulance, you can call 1669. The ambulance service is free as well, but only if deemed necessary by the hospital staff.
Thinking about getting a Thai driver’s license?
It’s totally possible for tourists. Here is what you need to know.
- The Land Transportation Office handles the whole issuance process
- Licenses for motorbikes and cars have to be done separately (which results in two different license cards). You’ll have to go through the same theory exam twice in a row if you apply for both licenses
- The motorcycle license does not restrict which class of motorbike you are allowed to ride
- You’ll have to apply at the office which is responsible for the district you live in
- It takes one or two days to get your license(s), depending on the office
- In most offices, you’ll have to bring your own vehicle for the practical exam
- You’ll be issued a temporary license at first which can be turned into a permanent one after two years (temporary license is available with tourist visa, permanent one isn’t)
- If you have an international driver’s license or got yours translated and certified by your embassy, the guys at the Transportation office will simply transfer it to a Thai one without making you do the theoretical or practical exam
- You have to bring: Certificate of Residence/Work Permit, Medical Certificate, Passport + Copies of the photo page and the visa page, copies of all the mentioned documents if you apply for car and motorbike license, sometimes a passport photo, depending on the office
If you are applying for a Thai license:
- Dress modestly (no bare shoulders, no crop tops, no shorts) or you’ll be sent away
- Be there early and take a number as soon as you arrive (the offices open around 8:30, but there will already be people queuing)
- Don’t come later than 9-9:30 or you’ll be told to come back the next day
- Study for the theoretical test before applying for the license (you might or might not be shown a training video)
- Research Thai holidays as offices are closed on those days
- Mentally prepare for something to go wrong so you’ll have to come back another day