Something didn’t seem all that safe about renting a two-wheeled motorized vehicle to cruise around on, for five dollars a day*, with no prior training or experience in operating such vehicles. Often tourists to hot destinations ride scooters with no helmet** while wearing shorts, a tank top and flip-flops. Most backpackers, being broke, forgo travel insurance*** as well.
So it should come as no surprise that The Times (UK) reported last week (Aug. 25) that motorbike accidents are the main reason why Thailand is the deadliest holiday destination for Britons. Out of an estimated 860,000 British tourists who visited Thailand last year, 269 were killed, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The majority of the 324 reported hospitalizations in Thailand were due to motorbike accidents, the FCO added, noting actual numbers are probably higher.
*About road worthiness: “Some vehicles are not road worthy. The FCO says that many of the motorcycles and scooters that are available for hire in beach resorts are unregistered and cannot legally be driven on a public road. This could invalidate any travel insurance policy should the driver wish to make a claim.”
**About helmets: “The Thai law that states safety helmets must be worn is widely ignored according to the FCO, which contributes to the high number of deaths each year. On average 38 people a day die in motorcycle accidents in Thailand.”
***About travel insurance: “The (FCO) report found that financial pressures are causing many British holidaymakers to forgo travel insurance in a bid to save money.”
A few other reasons why scooter accidents are so common among backpackers, especially in Thailand:
- Limited experience. A couple of years ago, I was in Ko Chang and my friends and I were about to rent scooters. The scooter rental shop was near the beach, a short walk from the town. As we arrived at the turnoff of the main road, a British guy and his girlfriend were driving toward us, also turning in. The guy slowed down and turned in without a problem. The girl slowed down, began turning and immediately sped up, lost control and smashed into a pile of construction debris – aluminum siding, scrap wood and metal. It would have been hilarious if the girl hadn’t been shrieking with her foot cut open (she was wearing flip-flops), leaking blood all over the metal, sand and grass. The problem was clear: Not knowing how to drive the scooter, she accidentally hit the gas instead of braking, panicked and revved into the garbage pile.
- Gravelly, dusty roads. I was in Bali with a bunch of Chilean guys I’d met and we were ripping all over the island on scooters (see video). All was well until, in a hurry to catch the sunset at Uluwatu, I took a gravelly corner too fast and bam! I wiped out, scraping up my palms pretty badly. I had to drive to a nearby clinic, blood running down my wrists, where a nurse scrubbed my wounds with hydrogen peroxide and used tweezers to remove pebbles from the flesh of my palms. Good times.
- Sheer cliffs and mountainsides. Driving a scooter on winding, narrow roads, devoid of guardrails, makes one wonder how many backpackers have lost control, fallen down slopes and died (see above statistics).
- Wildlife. Monkeys and elephants pop up at any time.
- Garbage. Garbage litters the roadsides.
- Unyielding local drivers. People don’t care if you’re “farang.” Get out of their way.
- Unyielding local driving habits. In many developing world countries, red lights are often considered optional. Proceed with caution.
- Alcohol and recreational drug use. ‘Nuff said.