Hi all you folks intending to visit Phuket,
Iíve heard many stories from people renting vehicles (motor bike and car) and† I have been personally involved in a bad bike crash plus had traffic tickets from the police, so I felt compelled to† explain to all new and previous tourists (and to some long stay visitors who donít know or donít care about the legal rules)† WHAT YOU ARE NOT TOLD WHEN YOU RENT A MOTOR VEHICLE when renting from the small roadside independents. I assume that the bigger hire companies are more responsible but they tend to be a lot more expensive.† This piece is not intended to frighten the many tens of thousands of visitors have a great time† roaring about on bikes and touring about in a Jeep. BUT..† a few end up the hospital each & every day and some go home in a box. Iím one of those who ended up† in hospital for a few days and my wife (Thai) had a major knee operation. She spend 8 days in a private room and now many years later has still not fully recovered the use of her knee.
1. Driving License. . a valid International Driving License is compulsory for all visitors driving any motor vehicle in Thailand. When renting a vehicle† only your passport will be requested to prove identity and is usually retained until return of the vehicle. Normally, no-one mentions anything about driving license legal requirements. In the event of an accident then you must show the police an IDL to support any Insurance claim. No IDL then the Insurance compnay will reject the claim.
2.†† Insurance.. donít be fooled by the ďwith insuranceĒ signs. Check-out what insurance is really being provided. All vehicles by law must have basic insurance, but basic means very basic.† It only covers minimal hospital† costs for the driver and passengers of your vehicle only. It does not cover any mechanical damage† to either party, or hospital costs to the other party, or loss of earning to ether party, or theft.† Let me explain that a bit more, minimum medical insurance† is 15,000 Baht (US$† 375) per person no matter who caused the accident. If you can prove to the police that it was the other partyís fault and all your paperwork is valid (license, insurance & road tax) then the payment rises to 50,000 Baht (US$ 1,250) per person. I recommend that all visitors have some sort of personal holiday insurance to at least pay for all medical/hospital costs. Next up, no mechanical damage paid. So that means you have to pay for both vehicles repair if it was your fault or you have to try and get the other guy to pay if it was his fault. If you have an accident with a Thai national then you will have a hard time proving itís his fault and the police will usually be on the side of the local (thatís normal† in† most countries) plus there will be a language difficulty. Lastly, compensation payment for loss of earnings. Thai nationals will almost certainly try to claim some compensation, for example if you hit a taxi† (the major cause of accidents, in my opinion) then you have to pay for lost earnings while the taxi was being repaired or while the driver was in hospital recovering. Youíll be asked to pay loss of rental earning for the vehicle you hired while itís being repaired and the other vehicle if it was also rented.
3.†† Rental ContractÖ read it carefully before you agree and sign. You might get a surprise and just decline & use a taxi. I always read before I sign anything and the first time I rented a motor bike I was†† very surprised to see that I was responsible for everything, even the price of replacing the bike I was hiring in the event of theft or complete write-off, price not defined, just a blank space!† This is the time to really find out your personal liabilities and what the insurance on offer really covers. Almost all motorbike rentals only offer the very basic insurance described above. Jeep and car rental maybe have a more comprehensive insurance but check it out before you rent! BUT BEWARE that Thai law declares that the driver (not the owner) is totally responsible for the condition of the vehicle and the validity of all vehicle documentation. Really check out the mechanical condition of the vehicle, point out and note any body damage, make sure the brakes work effectively. Some of the vehicle offered by the road† side independents are very poorly maintained, but are always painted bright colors and look really smart.†
4. Thai LawÖ† every motor vehicle must have a valid road tax disk (affixed to the vehicle), valid insurance (also affixed to the vehicle) and a number plate. If the number plate is red then thatís a temporary number (issued to new vehicle for the first month or so) and the vehicle must not be driven from sunset to sunrise, i.e. must not be driven at night. The driver must have a valid Driving License (International License for Tourists) and there must be a least a copy of the vehicle registration document available for police road check inspection.† Much of these requirements are somewhat extreme and the typical tourist would not be required to provide such documentation at a routine road check, but if an incident occurs then all the documentation is required. ALL riders on a motor bike (including the passenger) MUST wear a crash helmet at all times. This law is ignored by many people and most motor bike hirers do not highlight this legal requirement and do not even offer a crash helmet with the bike. Even worse, you may have to pay an extra cost or deposit for the passengerís helmet. Since late 1998 both driver & front seat passengers in a car must wear seat belts at all time.† The Phuket police are quite vigorous at applying the crash helmet law (fine 400 Baht = US$10.00) and they are now starting to enforce the seat belt law.† In my opinion, itís always sensible to wear a crash helmet at all times and a seat belt at all time for oneís own personal safety. Oh, donít forget to drive on the LEFT side of the road.
5.†† Driving StandardsÖ an experienced driver will be quick† to notice that the local standard of driving is poor, very poor. The best rule of thumb is just to expect anything & everything from other drivers. My particular ďfavoriteĒ is the method of executing a right hand turn. Thai motor bike drivers habitually drift over to the extreme right hand side of the road about 30m before the turn, then hug the corner, drive on the wrong side for a while then drift back over to the correct (left) side of the road. I canít see the sense in this as it poses 2 hazards - a) oncoming drivers on the main road have bikes driving straight at them (thatís how I had my accident)† & b) drivers approaching the junction from the side road are suddenly faced with a bike coming round the corner into the front of their vehicle.† The very early hours of the morning are especially dangerous with many drunk drivers (usually other tourists) driving about and if itís raining very heavily then itís best just to stop (somewhere safe) and wait for the rain to go away. Recently I sat my Thai driving tests. The written paper is very thorough but the practical test is just a joke, not even on a public highway. Just drive the car through some cones, reverse back , turn into a parking bay and that was it !!!† The motor bike test involves 2 circuits round the Phuket Vehicle Licensing Centre mostly out of sight of the examiner who was busy watching the car drivers. Yes, incredibly itís a group practical test where one examiner processes all the applicants (and there were at least 30 on the day of my tests) in under 2 hours.†††
We rent vehicles, but at least we make our customers aware of all the driverís obligations. Our fleet of vehicles is quite small and we only rent to people we know, friends of friends and by recommendation. Thus our small operation is more casual, we are cheap, we donít ask for a passport, donít make a formal contract, give 2 helmets, advise on seat belt use, what to expect on the road and we assist/advise in the event of any problems.
Have a great holiday in Phuket,
Alex (& Wallee) Malcolm in Patong, www.alexmalcolm.net
Note : Iím no legal expert and Iím only explaining Thai driving laws as best as I understand then from personal experience. I welcome any comments, corrections or discussion to the above guide direct to me at : Alex Malcolm <email@example.com>