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Driving in Thailand. Yes, there are rules of the road

Looking to drive around Thailand? Legally? Apart from getting a proper Thai license, or having a legal international license that is recognised in Thailand (along with an International Driving Permit), you better know the road rules as well. Some may argue that there doesn’t appear to be any! There are, but sometime loosely followed as ‘guidelines’, rather than precise rules of the road.

The main difference for driving around Thailand is not so much different rules (and perhaps origin on the opposite side of the road compared to your country), but the ‘rhythm’ of the driving, often less defensive and more like driving like a school of fish.

There’s also a lot of motorbikes. If nothing else, a lot more attention to your rear view and side mirrors is highly recommended in Thailand.

While Thailand’s road regulations share similarities with those of other Southeast Asian countries, a distinctive feature is the quality of its roads, which are generally ‘good’ verging on ‘excellent’ in most areas.

Here is a quick list of some of the rules drivers should adhere to to ensure their safety while driving around the Kingdom.

Legal Age

The legal age for driving in Thailand is 18. To obtain a driving license, aspiring drivers must undergo courses at a driving school before being eligible to receive their license. Yes, you’ll see plenty of younger kids on motorbikes getting some early training – this might be tolerated out of the main population centres but little seen in the holiday spots.

Right of Way

In accordance with Thai Traffic Laws, when two moving vehicles approach a junction, the car in the left lane must be given the right of way. Unless there is a designation of a principal roadway mark, in which case the vehicle on that mark is given precedence.

Seatbelts

Drivers and passengers must now wear seatbelts at all times. Children under 12 years old must use a car seat and are permitted to occupy only the rear seats of a vehicle. These 2023 updates have replaced the old rule which stipulated that only the driver and passenger in the front seat had to wear a seat belt.

Car Rentals

Renting a car in Thailand is is easy and definitely a cheaper transport option than using taxis and tuk tuks. But, for newbies, have a bit of a practice on some quieter roads first before barrelling head-long into Bangkok on a busy day.

There are plenty of reputable rental companies at the airports, and plenty of other independent companies in tourist areas. Best to get a recommendation for others who have used the services of a local, independent company if you’re straying away from the know rental brands.

Always take care to inspect and photograph with the vendor before taking delivery and check on the insurance for the vehicle. Then check all that again!

Speed Limits

Suburban road speed limits are set at 50 km/h, while rural roads have a limit of 90 km/h. Motorbike users should not exceed 120 km/h, but posted local speed limits should always been obeyed. While surpassing these speeds is illegal, it is advisable to reduce speed in the presence of heavy traffic, rain, sand, and other hazardous road conditions. Always stay in the left lane, if not passing.

Traffic Signs

Thailand has five distinct road signs, all featuring both English and Thai languages – roundabout sign, indicating no lane changes, Warning Signs alerting drivers to potential hazards.

Mandatory Signs should be strictly adhered to, while Information Signs, primarily in Thai, are widely used by locals. Prohibitory Signs prohibit specific actions, and Priority Road Signs confer right-of-way on designated highway sections.

Overtaking

Overtaking without a warning signal incurs fines of up to 1,000 baht. It is advisable to avoid overtaking without a valid reason, and if necessary, to signal appropriately. You may think, driving around Thailand, that most cars have malfunctioning indicating lights – it’s not the fault of the lights, it’s the drivers being disinclined to use them… just one of those quirks.

Tooting your horn

Tooting the car horn in frustration is very rare and considered ‘impolite’ in Thailand. Local drivers often use a brief honk to alert other drivers about their intention, but very, very rarely as an indication of displeasure. On the other hand, honking near temples is a sign of respect to the inhabitants, not merely noise-making.

Changing Lanes

When changing lanes, using a turn signal or hand gesture is essential, particularly on narrow roads or highways where motorbikes are prevalent. Check all your mirrors before changing lanes, motorbikes can appear out of nowhere and randomly.

Zebra Crossings

Recognising designated crosswalks and zebra crossings is crucial in a culture where people are often crossing roads, not necessarily where they are meant to. Drivers should always stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, even if pedestrians have magically created their own by simply starting to walk across a busy road.

Since a high-profile death of a female ophthalmologist in Bangkok’s Ratchathewi district in 2021, there has been a lot more attention made to making crosswalks more visible and even a discernible change in the behaviour of drivers as well.

Parking

Park only in designated areas. Additional rules may include restrictions on parking on specific days or during certain hours. Red and white curb markings indicate restricted parking. There might not always be signs explaining exactly what the rules are along a particular road – ask a local and just be careful parking in locations where there is little lighting or other passing traffic.

Drinking and Driving

Thailand’s legal blood-alcohol limit is 0.5 grams per litre of blood. Drivers with a five year history must adhere to a limit of 0.2 grams or risk permit seizure. Roadside checks are rare but if you get caught you’re in for a world of pain and inconvenience.

Don’t drink and drive in Thailand, or use any other drugs that may impair your ability to drive, under any circumstances.

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