Friday, September 12, 2014

Driving in Thailand

Below is a cool description of how people drive in Thailand. It was sent to me by Elder Sowards a Senior Missionary who is currently serving here.  I have found it so true .... based on my Driving experiences here in Thailand.  I took the President's Car and 3 Vans (2 mission and 1 from the Facilities Group) from the Office into the Toyota Dealer over the past two days for service.  As I was driving them I thought about the rules below.  I found myself driving just like described below.  Sister Meeker thinks I might need to be retrained when I eventually get back home. 

Picture from 3 years ago - I have seen much worse now

Written by Dennis Sowards and based on the RULES FOR DRIVING IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - Observations by David L. Johnson

1.    The “Right of Way” is determined by three things, in this order: Position, Speed and Size.       

2.    If there is space on the road, occupy it.

3.    To “Drift” from one’s lane is the same as putting on the blinker.

4.    A motorist owns the road from his peripheral vision to the bumper of the next car in front of him.  

5.    Motorcycles are not subject to any laws or “The Rules” of the road.

6.    Two short beeps on the horn is a “Courtesy Honk.”  It means: “I’m here, pay attention to me.”  Or, “The light is green - let’s go.”  Or, “Here I come; I’m going to pass you.”  Or, it can mean any other number of “Friendly” reminders on the road. The “Courtesy Honk” is never done with aggression or anger.

7.    One long blast on the horn is not a “Courtesy Honk”.  It means “You dirty ¡*&#?@%*!”.  This honk is aggressive and angry.

8.    There are no specified turn lanes.  ALL LANES turn right and ALL LANES turn left.

9.    There is no “High Speed” lane. Even if the “Super Highway” (a four lane divided highway) looks like it has an inside lane, it is not the “High Speed” lane.

10.  The inside lane is for all traffic, fast or slow.  The outside lane is for parking, motorcycles and passing.

11.  Cars are parked anywhere. If there is a spot, occupy it.  Cars are most often parked in the left hand lane of traffic.  “No Parking” signs have no meaning.

12.  Vigilance. Always pay attention to the road. Never be distracted. Always be on the lookout for pot holes, drift, missing manhole covers, intersections, speed bump, etc.

13.  Never talk on the phone while driving.

14.  80% of drivers obey “The Rules” of the road. Watch out for the other 20%.

15.  Lane markings do not exist. Paint on the street, like the double yellow lines that divide oncoming traffic or the white lines between lanes, are a figment of your imagination. They have no real meaning. At best, they are only “guide lines” for tourists.

16.  Always drive in the “Shadow” of a car that is “Blocking” traffic in front of you. 
(These are some of the "NORMAL things" Thai drivers do that we might consider bazaar, crazy and unsafe but if you ever expect to be a safe driver in Thailand you must learn, understand and expect these "NORMAL things".)

·       Drivers will pull right out in front of you and expect you to stop in time without hitting them.

·       Blinkers and rear view mirrors are available but seldom, if ever, used. 

·       Motorcycles drive at night with no headlights and no tail lights. The same is true for rear view mirrors, blinkers and helmets. They will drive on the opposite side of the road than the cars. Motorcycles are very dangerous - always be vigilant.

·       Traffic lights are obeyed by 80% of the motorist, even less by motorcycles.

·       Traffic lights often are not functioning.  In this case rule #1 above applies.

·       If an intersection is a “Log Jam” of cars, this is a normal and acceptable condition. Rule #1 above applies. 

·       Traffic lights have three colors. They are Green, Yellow and Thai Green.  So … You say to yourself, “The traffic light is red so why do the vehicles still go through the intersection?”  The answer is simple; there is a new color in the Thailand. The new color looks like “Red” but it is really “Thai Green”.

·       Directional street signs are very rare. If you come to a fork in the road, don’t expect a sign there to tell you where each road leads.

·       Signs in advance of a junction telling you that a junction is just ahead are rare.

·       Stop signs are very rare. Those that do exist are not observed. If a car is approaching a stop sign, do not expect it to stop or even slow down. Stop signs are irrelevant; vigilance is paramount.

·       Thai drivers are like little children on a crowded sidewalk. It is all about “ME”. They are in a hurry to be in the front. Like little children many lack common courtesy and decency. They never take into account the safety or feelings of other drivers.

·       The Thai driver’s motto is, “You can be first, right after me”.

·       You find yourself saying: “Why did he do that?” The answer is simple: because he can!

·       Driving the wrong way on a “One Way” street is a very common practice in the Thailand.

·       Driving on the wrong side of the road, against traffic, is very common. All drivers must be vigilant.

Thailand has most of the same traffic laws as the United States or any other civilized nation. All drivers are required to pass a written driver’s test and carry a current driver’s license. The real problem is lack of enforcement. A society without law slides into anarchy and chaos. A society with laws but no enforcement is very close to anarchy. Highway laws in the Thailand have little enforcement. Since there is no enforcement of traffic laws, traffic in Thailand resembles chaos.
Since traffic laws are rarely enforced in the Thailand, traffic here has been reduced to a chaotic tangle of “Every driver for him or herself” confusion. Over time this confusion has evolved into a discipline, such as it is, that most motorists follow and obey. It can be called “organized confusion, The Rules for Driving in the Thailand”.  These driving rules are obeyed by about 80% of all drivers.

Who are these 80% that are obeying “The Rules”? The 80% is made up of two kinds of drivers: the ones that actually obey the real “Laws of the road” and those that have learned to obey “The Rules” of the road. 

Those that obey the real “Laws of the road” have studied the law, they’ve passed the driver’s test, they hold a current driver’s license and they honor & obey the law.  The rest of the 80% are average Thais who have learned to drive by following the example of most other drivers. As a result, they know and obey “The Rules” of the road.  
The last 20% are the ones we must all watch out for. They obey no laws or rules of the road. They cannot be trusted for a moment. They are the ones that a good driver is always watching out for.

The 80%, those that obey “The Rules”, are all excellent drivers. They can be trusted to obey “The Rules” of the road and within those rules they are very safe drivers. Indeed, we trust them with our lives every time we get behind the wheel.

For the new comer to Thailand, the average Thai driver appears to not know how to drive, is discourteous, rude and dangerous. But this is not the case at all. Indeed, the new comer is the one that doesn’t know how to drive. In reality, the new comer is the one that is discourteous and dangerous. Until he learns the rules of the road, he will be the one that causes confusion and chaos.


The term “Right of Way”, as we know it, does not exist in the Thailand. Yield signs do not exist and the term “Yield the Right of Way” has no meaning. Thais usually do let others go first either because they were there first or because they feel sorry for one waiting so long. There are three things that determines who has “The Right of Way” in the Thailand.  They are: POSITION, SPEED AND SIZE. 

POSITION – In the Thailand, a driver can gain the right of way by positioning the nose of his car in front of the other car. When he pulls in front of the other car, that car is effectively blocked and cannot move forward until the first car has moved out of his way.  Therefore, gaining the right of way is simple; you must use your vehicle to block the path of the other car. Example: It’s rush hour and you are stuck in the inside lane and you are inching forward with the rest of traffic. You want to move to the outside lane.  The car beside you has left a small gap between his car and the vehicle in front of him. You pull forward and position the nose of your car in the gap in front of his car effectively blocking him. He has a car to his right so he can’t move around you and regain his position over you. You now have the right of way and as traffic continues to inch forward you can completely pull in front of him.

SPEED – All things being equal (no one has completely blocked anyone else yet) the vehicle that is going the fastest, goes first. Therefore, at a 4-way intersection if two cars approach at right angles to each other, the faster car goes first and the slower car must slow down to let him pass. This rule is true at any speed from one mile per KM to one hundred.

SIZE – All things being equal (no vehicle has position or speed on the other) the largest vehicle goes first.  Example: A bus and a car approach an intersection at the same speed. The car must slow down and let the bus go first. This rule is also true at any speed from one mile per KM to one hundred.


The new driver or visitor in the Thailand might think driving resembles chaos. He might think driving requires the skill of “Brinksmanship” or the nerve of a game of “Chicken” but it is neither of these. The rules of the “Log Jam” and the “Inch Game” illustrates that driving in the Thailand is orderly.  (Well… sort of orderly!)

The “Log Jam” is a traffic jam at an intersection because there is no traffic light or the traffic light is not functioning.  The “Log Jam” is very common in the Thailand. It looks like a bunch of cars squeezed in together, from all directions, each one trying to maneuver its way through the chaos and reach the other side of the intersection so they can go on their way. 
Even though it looks like chaos, what is really happening is the organized movement of traffic using “The Rules” (See No. 1 and 2 above, on page 1).  Each vehicle is inching forward to take away the position of the other cars around it. The driver that successfully gets position goes first and continues to inch forward until he clears the intersection.

The “Inch Game” is similar to the “Log Jam” because it uses the same rules: No. 1 and No. 2 above. It is used by one or more cars that are waiting to cross a busy intersection, trying to pull into a lane of traffic or turning left at an intersection.

The “Inch Game” starts when one or more cars (the “Inch Game” players) move their vehicles a little bit into the first lane of traffic without blocking the lane completely.  Approaching cars are not completely blocked so their speed gives them the right of way. They must slow down a bit to maneuver around the encroaching cars and, having done so, they go on their way. Again the “Inch Game” cars “Inch” a little bit more into the lane of traffic. The approaching traffic has already had to slow a bit because the cars in front of them had to pass the “inch game”. Now the new cars must slow down even more to get around the “Inch Game” players. This pattern repeats itself until the approaching traffic can no longer maneuver around the “Inch Game” players.  They have lost position and speed and they must stop.  This pattern continues into the next lane of traffic until it is forced to stop too.  Now the “Inch Game” traffic has successfully blocked all of the lanes and they proceed unobstructed across the intersection. 

At this point all of the “Inch Game” players are moving across the intersection and are followed by more cars following in the “shadow of the blockers” (See: “7. Blocking and driving in the shadow of the Blocker” on Page 8). They all move across the intersection because they have the right of way based on speed. The cars that used to be in the high-speed lanes have lost position and speed and are completely stopped.  Now they become the new “Inch Game” players and slowly begin to encroach on the faster crossing traffic until they gain the right of way again. 
This “Inch Game” is repeated over and over at intersections all across the country every minute of every hour. To the untrained eye, it looks like mass confusion and discourteous chaos.  But just the opposite is true. The system works; all drivers in the Thailand know the game and play it very well.


A motorist “Owns the road” from his peripheral vision to the bumper of the next car in front of him.  It is his to do with, as he likes. He can change lanes without looking in his rear view mirror or even glancing to the side to see if there is a car in his “blind spot”.  He can drive on top of the white strip and block both lanes of traffic. He can “Drift” from lane to lane without considering if anyone is behind or beside him. He can drive very slowly and block traffic.

In the US these antics would result in a ticket and a fine. They might even cause “Road Rage.” In the Thailand, these are not antics; they are completely normal and accepted driving behavior. No one gets mad or upset (usually). The Thai motorist knows he “owns the road” in front of him and accepts the fact that the next driver in front “owns the road” in front of him. (See also: “4. Drift, Blinkers and Rear View Mirrors” below)

To “Drift” is the act of slowly wandering from lane to lane. The driver in front of you may drift left and right and still stay within his lane or he may drift left and right from curb to curb. To wander about or “Drift” is normal and accepted in the Thailand. 

It is important to pay attention to the “Drift” of the car in front of you. The moment he starts to “Drift” should be taken as his intention to change lanes. The instant a car stops going straight down the road and starts to move left or right, even if only slightly, this is the same as putting on the blinker.

Blinkers and rearview mirrors are available but seldom used. (Use your blinkers and rear view mirrors anyway, even though they are not required by “The Rules” of the road.)

If you are driving beside and to the rear (the “Blind spot”) of the car in front and he starts to “drift” into your lane, you have two options. You can slow down and allow him to take the lane in front of you. Or, you can beep your horn twice (the “Courtesy Honk”), speed up and pass him before he finishes his move into your lane.

A motorcycle can be privately owned and driven by its owner but often they are a taxi for hire. Most carry fee-paying passengers and their cargo. They often assemble in groups around bus stops and at intersections hoping to pick up a fare. Many motorcycles are “Home Delivery” for small corner grocery stores, restaurants and other stores.
Motorcycle drivers feel they are not subject to any laws or “The Rules” of the road. They are very dangerous.


Taxis often drive in the gutters, against traffic in the oncoming lane or even on the sidewalks to get to a person standing at the curb, in the hope that the person wants a ride.


At intersections, try to drive in the “Shadow” of the car that is “Blocking” traffic in front of you.  Example:  Often you will find yourself sitting in the right hand turn lane waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so you can make your turn. Inevitably one or more other cars, taxis, etc. will come around and pull in front of you, effectively blocking you, making themselves first in line to make the turn.  This is common and no reason for alarm.  In fact, you can use their “Inch Game” tactics to your advantage.  As they inch forward and begin to block traffic, stay in their shadow and they will clear the road for you so you can make your turn too.

Driving in the country can be different than driving in the major cities. 1) Watch out for livestock. Dogs, cows, pigs, chickens, etc. are everywhere. Especially dogs, they feel they own the road and you must go around them.  They are often wandering free, unattended. Be vigilant every moment. 2) The roads are terrible. Potholes are everywhere. A driver’s attention must be focused on the road every second. 3) Small towns have speed bumps everywhere. They are almost never marked. Most are very high and vehicles may bottom out on them. Go very slowly over them.  

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