Thailand is a very interesting place to drive for those of us foreigners living here and for the visitor bold enough to rent a car or motorcycle. Driving in Thailand’s bigger cities – especially Bangkok – requires an adventurous spirit and maybe even a little courage. For those that are up to the challenge, there is little doubt that you will be in for a real adventure.
In general, Thai drivers are courteous though a certain amount of boldness will help when traffic is most heavy. Yet, even when traffic is most congested there is a noticeable lack of flaring tempers many of us are accustomed to in Western countries… just be sure to have a good map.
Outside the city it can be a real advantage having a car or motorcycle (or private car/driver). This is because many of the less-traveled and most interesting sights and areas-of-interest are scattered across a wide area and some may not be easily accessible by public transportation.
Thailand also has plenty of top-class and inexpensive car rental (and motorcycle rental) services at most major centers in the country. All you need is a passport, a driver’s license and a credit card. An International driver’s license may be handy but is not necessary.
One caution about driving in Thailand is that very may Thai people do not drive cars but motorcycles. Maybe the term motor-scooter is more accurate than motorcycle as these bikes are designed for economy and not speed or comfort. Motor-scooters are everywhere, including on the highways, and the utility of these vehicles will never cease to amaze.
To say that motor-scooters can appear out of every nook and cranny is not an overstatement. You will see these small motorcycles loaded with small families, dogs, the market haul, and sometimes I think student have an unspoken contest about how many people can be loaded onto one scooter.
‘Standard’ traffic rules and the lines on the road seem to be of less importance in Thailand cities. Roadsides may be jammed with market stalls and pedestrians often need to take the road as their walking path. You will encounter slow moving tuk tuks and red taxis (Songtows), drivers that expect courtesy right-of-way as they change lanes, and don’t be surprised if you need to yield to the occasional elephant. This will all seem very unusual at first but it quickly becomes the norm.
If you are a skilled driver and at ease about driving on the left-side of the road then the convenience of traveling with your own vehicle may outweigh the need to get used to the driving customs of Thailand. Driving in Thailand can be a great experience if you know what to watch out for and are up for the adventure.
If you are already a seasoned driver in foreign countries or want the freedom of driving a car in Thailand.
Rules & Regulations
- Drive on the left side of the road.
- The legal age for driving cars is 18.
- The legal age for riding a motorcycle up to 110cc is 15 and the legal age for riding a motorcycle over 110cc is 18.
- It is compulsory for a driver to carry the driving licence as well as a copy of the vehicle registration document (Blue Book, Lem Tabian).
- Valid Thai Driving licecnce or International Driving Licences must be carried at all time of driving.
- Tax sticker must be adhered in the vehicle and has to be renewed annually at the local Department of Land Transport Office (DLT).
- Every vehicle must have at least third party compulsory motor insurance, which has to be renewed annually at the local Department of Land Transport Office (DLT).
- It is compulsory to wear a seat belt at the driver seat and the passenger seat in the front of a car.
- Blood-alcohol limit is 0.5 mg.
- Fines for exceding the speed limit must be paid at the local police station.
- Vehicles with red registration plates (new vehicles) are not permitted to drive at night.
- Drivers may only use a mobile phone with a handsfree system.
- Flashing of headlights by other vehicles is a warning signal asking for the way or taking over.
- Drivers of larger vehicles may assume that smaller vehicles will give way.
- Always check for motorbikes that running behind when opening car doors on the side of the road as they frequently travel in the inside space between the road and the pavement.
- Children's car seats are not obligatory.
- When changing the colour of their car, the owner of the car must inform the DLT who will change the details in the registration book.
- A frequently used method of warning road users of a car breakdown on the road ahead is to obstruct a part of the road before the car with tree branches.
Roads in Thailand vary from tiny lanes as known as soi to multi-lane freeways. Frequently-used roads in the provinces are mostly four lanes.
There is incessant investment in upgrading or building new roads throughout Thailand. Road works are commonly seen throughout. Road works are not always clearly marked or lit at night. Some road work signs can be worn badly. Therefore, extra care must be taken.
Motorways or expressways are restricted to areas around the Bangkok area.
- Traffic can be very congested in particular at rush hours from 07.00 am. -10.00 am. and 04.00 pm. -07.00 pm..
- Tolls are charged for each section of the motorway and the fees are different depending on the distance and route taken.
- Speed limits are marked on the signposts and are usually 120 km/h for cars. In some areas, the limit may be reduced to 90 km/h.
The highways that join all the provinces throughout the country are usually well-indicated and easy to follow.
The speed limit is signposted and is usually 90 Km/h for cars although in some areas there will be signposts indicating that the limit is increased to 100 Km/h or 120 Km/h.
Most suburban streets are similar to those in Europe and the rest of the world. Speed limits, marked by signposts are 50 km/h to 60 km/h.
Some small lanes have speed humps to reduce speed and dangers to pedestrians. Check all signs for changes to the usual speed limits of 60 km/h.
There are more motorcycles than any other types of vehicle on the roads in Thailand. Only a very basic test is required before a motorbike licence is issued and there are many accidents involving motorbikes. The figures for motorcycle deaths in Thailand are extremely high.
- Tax sticker and 3rd party insurance are required to carry with the motorcycles.
- Wearing helmet and carrying a motorbike licence are compulsory.
- Riding on the wrong side of the road
- Ignoring stop signs
- Riding with many passengers
- Cutting across the front of a car without looking
- Not indicating direction of turning
- Quickly riding across oncoming red traffic light
In some Thai cities parking spaces can be difficult to find because of the high number of cars.
The parking rules and rates are usually marked on signs (with English translations in tourist areas). Fines are given for cars parked in the wrong place or for too long. These can be paid at the local police station. If the vehicle has been clamped a police officer will be delegated to remove the wheel clamps.
Some areas charge a small fee for parking although this is not always indicated by signposting or curbside markings. The cost varies with the area but is usually around five to ten baht, payment will be collected by someone in a uniform. A small ticket will be placed under the windscreen wiper to indicate that payment has been made.
Painted curbsides and roads also give notice for legal parking spaces; marking mean the following:
Red and White markings
This is a no parking zone - cars may not park here at any time
Yellow and White markings
Indicates a short-term parking space only, usually no more than five minutes. These markings also indicate a bus stop. It is not advisable to park here
White rectangle on the road
This is a designated car parking space
Many diagonal white lines
This indicates parking spaces for motorcycles only. No cars can park here
Drink Driving (DWI/DUI)
The legal blood-alcohol limit in Thailand is 0.5 grams of alcohol per litre of blood. However, for drivers that have held their licence for less than five years the limit is 0.2 grams per litre of blood. Drivers caught over the legal limit are heavily fined and may be imprisoned or required to do community service. The government is trying to reduce drink driving and breath testing stops are becoming more common.
On average 7.5 people are killed for every 10,000 vehicles on Thailand's roads, amounting to around 14,000 deaths annually in a typical year. National holidays are when drink driving is at its highest, with as many as 600 deaths during the three-day "Songkran" festival. Drivers should take extra care at these times.