In October in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, the driver of a passenger van became distracted when he went to turn off the radio and veered across the highway, colliding into an approaching 6-wheel truck. The collision took seven lives and injured four additional people.
Each year, more than 20,000 people in Thailand die in road traffic crashes and several hundred thousand more are injured. The mortality rate per 100,000 inhabitants is 32.6 (as compared to 12.4 in the US). A recent World Health Organization report stated that Thailand is ranked ninth in the world and first in the ASEAN region for road traffic fatalities.
Suchai Charoenmukayananta, director of Ubon Connect News, was the recipient of an investigative journalism grant provided by the Internews program Champions for Change to Achieve Safer Road Use in Thailand. The program is supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Global Road Safety Partnership. The project provides road safety story grants to journalists for the in-depth investigation of road safety, like Charoenmukayananta’s reporting, with the goal to create awareness, public discussion and/or policy intervention
With funds provided by the grant, Charoenmukayananta began investigating the Ubon Ratchathani crash by conducting interviews with police, academics who understand collisions and the root causes behind them, and the health care providers at the hospital where the victims were treated.
After his research, Charoenmukayananta came to the conclusion that the cause behind the crash was not just driver distraction, but the danger of painted medians (medians that don’t include a physical barrier). A painted island sometimes gives drivers the wrong impression that the road is clear and has enough space, leading them to feel complacent and not slow down their vehicles. Some motorists even drive their vehicles on the painted median or make a U-turn over the median, which can lead to accidents.
This lack of road safety recognition among motorists is an additional factor that leads to the heightened fatalities on Thai roads. The Internews Champions for Change road safety project seeks to create the awareness that can lower the dangers for the population.
Charoenmukayananta’s investigation and the article that was published not only advocated for public awareness of the dangers behind the misuse and false safety implied by the painted medians, but also sparked public activism for officials to provide safer road conditions in all of Thailand. As a result of the valuable investigative journalism produced by Charoenmukayananta and funded by the Champions for Change grant he received for its actualization, the Ministry of Transportation has ordered that painted medians be replaced with rubber barriers starting next year.
Internews’ fellows and the local media worked together with the local government to push for investigation of the causes behind the crash and advocate for policy change. There has also been a Facebook page created to raise awareness specifically about painted medians
Media Conference on Road Safety in Thailand
To help keep the spotlight on road safety, Internews, in partnership with Road Safety Policy Foundation, hosted a media conference on road safety in Thailand on December 3-4 in Bangkok at which Charoenmukayananta spoke. The conference gave media experts, policy makers, professionals and academicians the opportunity to discuss and reflect on the power of road safety stories and policy engagement on both a national and local level. The conference focused on the role of media in helping to shift policy and increase public participation.
The conference was also attended by Senator Surachai Liengboonlertchai, who is also Chair of ASEAN-WHO South-East Asia Regional Network for Road Safety Legislators. The dialogue between journalists and public officials such as Liengboonlertchai is a valuable contribution that the conference has provided toward generation of positive activism for road safety in Thailand.