With Khao Lak the chosen location for a new airport to serve Phuket and other neighbouring provinces, attention is turning to road safety in the coastal town. Thai PBS World has a detailed report examining the issue and the reasons behind the high number of incidents each year.
The new airport, called the Andaman International Airport for now, will be located to the east of Kok Kloi town, just 10-15 minutes north of Phuket. The new Thai PM has visited Phuket twice over the past month to endorse the major infrastructure project in Phang Nga.
By the end of 2023, Khao Lak will have welcomed some 2 million tourists, generating some 10 billion baht in tourism revenue. However, foreigners continue to die on Khao Lak’s roads each year due to issues such as a lack of lighting, poor driving and local drivers speeding.
There have been a number of road expansion projects carried out in the town over the years and it now boasts a 4 lane superhighway. Sadly, it doesn’t have the lighting to go with it and much of the highway is in darkness at night.
Volunteer rescuer Surachai Khongkan says the lack of adequate lighting is an ongoing problem, contributing to many accidents, particularly at the most dangerous curves and accident blackspots.
“From Khao Lak to Baan Lam Kaen onward, there is no illumination. It has been dark for several months, since the last high season. We posted about it on Facebook, in groups such as Takuapa, Phang Nga and even the Phuket highways office, but there has been no response.”
According to data from Khao Lak Provincial Police Station, there were 74 road accidents and 8 fatalities in 2022. Between January and September of this year, there were 64 accidents. The authorities generally see a surge in road traffic accidents during the high season and actual figures are thought to be much higher, with many not reported.
The high accident rate is being blamed on the lack of adequate lighting at night, in particular through populated areas such as the busy Bang Niang market. Yutthana Pitak, director of the Phuket Highways Office, says during road construction, lighting is restricted to certain areas, based on population density.
“During the construction, some areas had lighting while others remained dark. The decision regarding which areas receive lighting is made by the Construction Department and the Design Department of the Department of Highways. Therefore, there won’t be lighting along the entire project and we believe this is appropriate based on the population density in the community.”
Yutthana acknowledges that when the construction work was in the planning stages a number of years ago, Khao Lak was a different place. He says his office will carry out a new survey to determine the need for additional lighting.
Meanwhile, Sirithorn Buakeaw from the Khao Lak Sub-district Administrative Organisation says that at meetings with the Department of Highways and the contractor, it was always agreed that there would be lighting throughout the area. He adds that the high number of U-turn being built, at a coast of 2 million baht, have meant cuts were made in other areas, including lighting.
In a survey of the world’s deadliest roads, Thailand consistently ranks highly, with around 20,000 fatalities a year. One particular risk for tourists is the Thai habit of completely ignoring pedestrian crossings. If a tourist steps onto one expecting oncoming traffic to stop, he or she risks being hit.
Meanwhile, speeding drivers are another contributing factor and according to Khao Lak police station, there’s only one speed camera in the area. Sirithorn says officials plan to install more speed bumps and signage, but admits the dangerous road conditions mean the town has some way to go before it can be considered a world-class tourist destination.
“When it comes to tourists and the quality experience here, I wish we could elevate it to a level that makes our town a world-class tourist destination. That way, visitors would share their positive experiences through word of mouth. As the municipality is responsible for this area, we aim to prevent any tragedies related to road accidents. Unfortunately, each year, so many tourists lose their lives in our town”.
SOURCE: Thai PBS World