Thailand mulls cutting short New Year party

BANGKOK, Reuters

The Thai government may cut short the country’s main holiday in coming years to reduce the number of traffic accidents and also discourage Thais from going abroad, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Yongyuth Tiyapairat told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was concerned that long holiday weekends encouraged Thais to travel overseas — leading to a drain on foreign reserves — and also led to a spate of domestic traffic accidents.

“The prime minister would like to see a holiday weekend not exceeding four days in a row because too long a holiday could pose some educational and economic impact,” Yongyuth said.

“Long weekends also encourage people to spend their time overseas and produce high accident rates.”

The traditional five-day Thai New Year festival, which ended on Tuesday, saw a large exodus out of the country, Yongyuth said, with 52,000 people going abroad compared with 43,000 in the same period last year.

A record 709 people were killed during the Songkran festival this year — a toll of more than four deaths per hour — mainly due to drunken driving, officials said.

Careless driving, worsened by consumption of methamphetamines and alcohol, was further compounded by slippery road conditions over the Songkran holiday, which ended on Tuesday, and most accidents involved motorcycles, officials at the Public Health Ministry told Reuters.

Thais mark the festival by throwing water over each other. Many say the celebrations have become increasingly out of hand in recent years, with gentle sprinkling of water being replaced by raucous water fights leaving victims drenched.

According to the ministry’s figures, from April 12 to 17 traffic accidents claimed 482 lives and 227 people were killed in other accidents. A further 29,374 were injured in traffic accidents while 28,891 people were hurt in other mishaps.

The average death toll was worse than the January international New Year celebrations, which claimed 3.7 deaths per hour, the ministry said.

“Almost 100 percent of fatal road accidents were caused by drunken driving,” Somchai Kanchanasut, head of the public health ministry’s emergency medical services center, told Reuters.

Thailand has a dreadful record on road accidents at all times of year, with death toll double the rate in the United States, Somchai said.

The Cabinet on Tuesday assigned the ministers of education, commerce and finance to study Thaksin’s concern and come up with a plan to minimize the impact of holidays, Yongyuth said.

But the result may not come before the next long holiday weekend from May 5 to 8.