According to a recent study led by the Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan, USA, Namibia is the country with the highest rate of fatalities from road crashes. And guess who is second? Yes, Thailand! The study found that there was a worldwide average of 18 fatalities from road crashes per 100,000 population. While the rate in the USA is 14, France 7, Germany 6 and UK 5, Namibia has a rate of 45. Thailand with 44 missed the first place by a hair (or rather, by a head!). The safest country, according to this same study, would be the Maldives with a rate of 2.
The study is titled Mortality from road crashes in 193 countries: A comparison with other leading causes of death and you can download the 45 page PDF here. You won’t find any explanation as to why Thailand roads are so dangerous, as the study simply presents some figures, but anyone who lives here is able to give you a list of many things that are wrong: too many people including small children without any protection on motorbikes or at the back of pickup trucks, reckless bus and minivans drivers, high consumption of alcohol and other drugs, no training for the future drivers, no concern for safety, no seatbelts, no child seats, the “mai pen rai” culture of “what will happen will happen anyway”, regulations not enforced, trucks parked anywhere at night, people driving the wrong way with or without lights, known dangerous spots where nothing is done to improve safety, Songkran and new year blasts, etc, etc, etc.
This being said, there is no need to be particularly afraid if you have to drive in Thailand. The figures are high because accidents involving buses and minivans are quite frequent (see our press review), and of course many people are involved each time. The same goes for pickup trucks, when one of them has an accident but there are 15 people sitting in the back, it does impact (no pun intended) the statistics. Motorbikes are also included in the study, and we see them doing stupid things all the time, like driving the wrong way or coming out of a small soi into the main road without even looking. So, from a statistical point of view, you should be fine if you stay away from buses and minivans as much as possible and if you don’t drive a motorbike like you’re running for a Darwin award, or, better, if you drive a car and maintain the same safety standards as “back home”, especially if back home ranks closer to the Maldives than from Namibia.