Motorcycles, Scooters and Driving in Thailand: What are the Rules?
Riding in Thailand seems to be one of the most convenient and easy ways for tourists to get around. You can just hire a motorcycle or scooter from only 200 baht (USD$6.60) per day. Compare that to car rental which starts at around 1,000 baht per day.
Many of these rental shops do not require driving licenses. All you need is a passport and a deposit and you can just hit the road. But is that really sufficient to legally drive a vehicle in the country?
1. Do I Need a Driver’s License?
Yes, absolutely! You definitely need a driver's license. To ride a motorcycle or scooter, you need an international motorbike license or a Thai motorbike license. If you want to drive a car in Thailand, you must have a valid international license, or a license from your home country in English, or a Thai driving license. Confusion may occur because motorcycle rental shops rarely ask for one. You must have a license, otherwise you will be considered to be driving illegally which can bring penalties if you are caught, not to mention all kinds of insurance problems if you have an accident.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2018, Thailand has the highest number of road accidents in Southeast Asia and is among the worst in the world for vehicle accidents and fatalities. Knowing this fact alone should make you extra vigilant before going on the road.
In the event that any accident does occur, you will be asked to present your driving license to the police officer. Failing to do so will result in a fine. In the case that any injuries or fatalities occur, you may be liable and prosecuted. Without a valid license, you will not be able to make any insurance claims or access any medical reimbursements.
2. I See Many Locals Not Wearing a Helmet. Why Should I?
Wearing a helmet is extremely important if you take your life seriously. Studies have shown that wearing a helmet can dramatically reduce the risk of serious trauma to the head, brain injury, or death as the result of an accident. A helmet offering full face protection is preferred as it can help minimise injury, and also distraction from dust, dirt, and water while on the road. Remember it's not only the driver who must wear a helmet - it is compulsory for the passenger to wear a helmet too.
3. Is Travel or Health Insurance Necessary?
Definitely, travel or health insurance is advisable if you're considering driving in Thailand since injuries from motorbike accidents are reported to have the highest claim rates amongst all vehicle accidents. In case of severe injuries, hefty costs for medical care and transport may be incurred. Remember to have a current valid license and obey the traffic rules otherwise your insurance may be invalid in the event of an incident.
4. Get Accustomed to the Thai Style of Driving
Driving in Thailand may be a little different to driving in many other parts of the world. Here are some of the local traits you might encounter on the roads.
Tailgating is fairly common in Thailand. If you are being tailgated, you should probably try to switch to another lane. People often cut into other lanes without warning and cut each other off. You cannot imagine this happening in your country, right? Although this would seem likely to trigger other drivers' anger, road rage in Thailand is actually very rare and drivers are relatively polite. Culture plays a major part here and it is considered rude and very aggressive to use your horn in almost any instance, unlike other countries.
There is a general rule in many other countries: 'Keep Left Unless Overtaking'. This doesn't really apply in Thailand in practice and you will find that drivers will tend to stick to the right lane, especially on highways and expressways. This is sometimes because the left lanes have eroded significantly due to excessive heavy vehicle traffic.
To do a U-turn or drive out of your street into jammed traffic, the ability to 'creep' is an essential skill, as other drivers will not usually give way until you make the first move. It is best to edge out slowly and be aware of the other traffic. Thais will generally let you join the traffic fairly quickly. When you finally get into the street that you're turning into, it's advisable to smile, and make a friendly bowing and / or waving gesture to thank the person you edged in front of for not ramming you.
Failure to move out slowly will result in you remaining static until a gap in the traffic appears, which may take a long time. Failing to move will also raise the ire of drivers behind you, and if you are in smaller alleyways or 'sois', your failure to move might cause oncoming drivers to not be able to turn into the street you're turning out of.
If you remember your driving lessons in your home country, you were probably told to make frequent use of your mirrors. In Thailand you need to make use of all your mirrors all the time - because other road users - cars, motorcycles, mobile food stalls, elephants - can appear from any direction at any moment, and you need to be ready. There’s no room for complacency.
Finally and surprisingly, it is not illegal for back-seat passengers to ignore their seatbelts. In fact, you will encounter many vehicles such as pick-up trucks, lorries, and even taxis with several unsecured passengers in the back. Some cars don't even have seat belts fitted in the back. Even more surprising is that car seats for babies are also optional.
We hope you enjoy driving in Thailand and do let us know if you survive to tell the tale.