Strapped into a backpack, the woman in her late 20s strides into two lanes of frenzied motorists hurtling to escape the downtown traffic crunch for highway freedom.
When the road is clear, she breaks into a run across a repainted pedestrian crossing where Phloen Chit turns into Sukhumvit Road to reach safety. Up next, a middle-aged woman approaching the other way isn’t so lucky. Soon after she stepped into the road yesterday morning, cars swinging onto the Phloen Chit Expressway cut her off, forcing her out of the crossing, ducking and weaving to avoid being hit.
Over on Thonglor, a street not lacking in marked crossings, pedestrians often ignore them to cross four lanes, which often move surprisingly fast. In a span of minutes Tuesday, at least two jaywalkers were seen crossing at unmarked locations.
While Thailand rushes to put a new coat of paint on pedestrian crossings and write even more rules that may or may not be enforced, it will do nothing to address its road culture, and the dangerous behavior practiced by pedestrians and motorists alike.
“Improved zebra crossings aren’t enough,” said Thanaphong Jinvong, the manager of Road Safety Thailand, a group that develops safety guidelines to prevent and reduce road accidents. “The problem also lies in pedestrians and motorists and their respect toward traffic guidelines.”
Thanaphong believes the nation is far from achieving an acceptable level of security on its roads, where pedestrians and motorists’ attitudes are lax.
“People, whether they are crossing the road or driving their car, are always aware that there are going to be risks involved,” Thanaphong said. “I can understand people are prone to making mistakes when accidents occur, which is why changing their perspectives is important.”
Changing that behavior is a challenge that Thanaphong believes could take months if not years.
Anguish over the death of a young woman crossing a road late last month has led to soul searching over how to fix the problem of road safety, the nation’s third leading cause of death that persists despite all the laws, scolding, campaigning, and blood spilled.
In a 2020 report, the World Health Organization noted that Thailand’s roads are the deadliest in Southeast Asia and among the worst in the world. Roughly 20,000 die each year, or about 56 people every day.
But introspection over how to tackle the problem stops short of systemic change and falls back on tidy, top-down approaches like putting new paint on old roads or increasing fines that, for all intents and purposes, appear optional.
Renovating the nation’s 12,000 or so crossings wouldn’t have saved the life of Waraluck Supawatjariyakul, who was killed in broad daylight in a clearly visible crossing by a speeding, blurry-eyed cop on an unregistered Ducati.
Not that it isn’t appreciated by those stepping into traffic every day. Underneath the expressway Tuesday morning, another woman stopped to take pictures of the recently repainted lines.
“It’s great isn’t it? They’re finally doing something about it,” the woman, dressed in a bright red T-shirt on Chinese New Year, said excitedly before leaving without giving her name.
After she walked away, a handful of people, at least 10, were seen carefully timing their crossings as no motorist even slowed for them.
Within a half hour, only five drivers paused to let pedestrians pass before quickly accelerating the moment they did.
Nearby, a group of motorcycle taxi drivers loitered in their orange vests.
“I’m quite afraid I’ll hit someone,” said one, identifying himself only as Jimmy. “It’s hard to see when you’re driving, and there aren’t enough visible signs.”
As anyone who navigates Bangkok regularly knows, drivers lord over pedestrians and the experience of traveling on foot and behind the wheel divides the powerless from the powerful. A morning walk up Thonglor was met with microaggressions at nearly every crossing from impatient drivers who forsake all of that famous kreng jai (consideration) the moment they get behind the wheel of their sleek sports cars and luxury sedans.
It’s hard to see how brighter lines are going to change that.