Traffic Laws & Driving Habits

Many of the driving rules in Thailand are the same or similar to other countries, but they are often ignored and only sporadically enforced.

As a result:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) regarding traffic deaths in Thailand: The country with the most traffic deaths is Thailand. The country has the world’s worst drivers, with a road-traffic death rate of 36.2 per 100,000 population
  • Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) notes: At  present, Thailand has more than 20 million motorcycles. About 70% of road traffic deaths come from motorcycle crashes.

Therefore, if you intend to drive a vehicle in Thailand, you should always be alert and have some familiarity with the driving culture and hazards.

Traffic Laws you need to know

Although it may seem to be sporadic and sometimes ignored by Traffic Police, they still do enforce traffic laws at times.

Violations will most likely result in a traffic fine. A ticket is issued and will usually involve a trip to the police station to pay it .

Here are some of the Traffic Laws you should become familiar with:

  • The Speed Limit is usually from 60 to 120kph. In towns and cities it i s usually 60kph and on highways it increases to either 100kph or 120kph depending on the road (actual speed limit signs are rare in Thailand other than expressways & toll roads.
  •  All motorcycle riders must wear helmets (generally ignored in Pattaya - also, those that do wear helmets often do not fasten the chin strap, which is probably not that important when you consider how flimsy most of the helmets are).
  • Motorcycles are generally prohibited from traveling on expressways and toll roads (but some will use them anyway).
  • The driver and passengers in the front seat of cars, pickups, and vans must wear their seat belts.
  • Drivers may not use of mobile phones, unless they are using a hands-free system.
  • Drivers must obey all traffic light signals -
    • the usual red for stop and green for go
    • for caution as the light is about to change can be the usual orange light OR if no orange, it will be a flashing green light
    • turning left on red after stopping with caution unless there is a sign prohibiting it - in Pattaya, if you see a sign that says in English: “TURNING LEFT WAITING LIGHT” - it means left turn on red is prohibited
  • Vehicles must be driven the left lane (often ignored by motorcyclists and by other vehicles in more rural areas).
  • Red and white markings on the curb means no parking or standing permitted at any time.
  • Yellow and white markings on the curb means no parking but short term standing is permitted, usually no more than five minutes, or that it is a bus stop. It is not advisable to park in these places.
  • White rectangle painted on the roadside indicates that cars may park there whereas white diagonal lines close together indicates it is motorcycle parking and cars should not park there.
  • On 4 lane roads, you should remain in the left lane except to overtake (if heavy traffic, then slower traffic must stay to the left - but in light traffic, it is not unknown for traffic police to fine you if you remain in the left lane after overtaking slower traffic).

Be Alert to Some Common Thai Driving Habits

Many foreigners are involved in traffic accidents in Thailand, as they expect international rules will be followed and were not accustomed to the ways in which Thai people drive.

Although many Thai drivers do follow Traffic Rules, there are also many that do not.  Thus one should exercise caution and be aware of the hazards of driving in Thailand.


Below are some things that you should be prepared for when driving in Thailand.

Traveling on the streets and highways

  • Flashing of headlights by other vehicles is a warning signal meaning "get out of my way" - it does not indicate that they are allowing you the right of way as it does in some western countries. Likewise, driving with one’s hazard lights flashing is also a signal that the driver is coming through.
  • Take care on one-way streets - local drivers often consider the law does not apply to them if driving the wrong way on a one-way street saves them time.
  • Speed Bumps - many small streets, especially in Pattaya, have large speed bumps - many appear to have been put there by locals and can be quite high, so be sure to slow down.
  • Double Parking - streets are often narrow with only two lanes cars to travel in both directions (expect at least one lane to be blocked by double parked vehicles  or trucks stopped while making a delivery.
  • When opening car doors, always check for motorbikes - they can appear out of nowhere and frequently will squeeze between a vehicle and the curb.
  • When turning, be alert for motorcycles within your turn radius - also be alert when making a right turn and vehicles stop behind you - it is not that uncommon for motorcycles to be passing the line of stopped vehicles and crashing into you as you make the turn.
  • Pedestrian Right of WayNOT! - Thai drivers do not consider pedestrians to have any right of way, even at marked cross walks. Pedestrians should also exercise care when crossing the road by looking in both directions before stepping off the curb (it is not unusual to have a motorcycle traveling the wrong direction in an opposing traffic lane).
  • Scooters and motorbikes commonly drive on the sidewalks during rush hour and other periods of heavy traffic. An Expat author who has spoken to the Club on more than one occasion lives in Bangkok. Since moving to Thailand, he said he has been hit by a motorcycle on two occasions - both times, he was on the side walk.
  • Drivers of larger vehicles often expect the smaller vehicle to give way. Be especially careful on two lane highways as you may meet an opposing bus or truck in your lane while passing slower moving vehicles. Also, if more than one lane, be alert when overtaking trucks or busses in the left hand lane as they may suddenly pull into your lane without warning because of slower moving traffic in their lane or they plan to make a right turn (often they will change lanes some distance from where they plan to turn).
  • Be alert for vehicles traveling in the opposite direction on the shoulder of road. A common occurrence in small towns or on highways with medians.

Right Turn or U-Turn Crossovers on roads with a median

  • Traffic waiting to make a right or U-turn often backs up into the main traffic lane so be alert - it does take time to stop when you are traveling at 90 or more kph. Also, it is not uncommon for a bus or truck driver that does not wish to queue up behind other turning traffic to pass the traffic in the right turn lane and then block the main traffic lane while waiting to make their turn.
  • Be alert for traffic stopped in the cross over of the median waiting to cross or turn as they may dart out in front of you - usually motorcycles and sometimes buses or trucks (remember, they are the larger vehicle and they will expect you to give way - of course you could flash your headlights at them and have your epitaph read “he had the right of way.”)

Controlled Intersections (approach with care)

  • Approaching an intersection when you have a green light, be careful as a motorcycle on the cross street may jump the light (expect several more to be right behind).
  • If your light is about to change to red, (yellow light OR green light is flashing) be alert for the speed of traffic behind you as they may be speeding up to beat the light as you prepare to stop.

Driving at night

  • Alcohol consumption is a major problem in Thailand. Late night and early morning hours are especially dangerous because of the number of inebriated drivers that may be on the road after an evening of drinking with friends.
  • Most Thai drivers do not have warning cones or triangles in the event of a breakdown. Thais often signal a breakdown ahead by placing branches on the road - these are especially hard to see if driving at night.
  • If there is a large pothole in the road, Thais will often put a stick upright in the hole as a warning - again, very difficult to see (the local authorities will get around to fixing the pot hole , but generally will not put up any warning cones or signs before the it is fixed).
  • Driving at night requires great care, especially on the highways. Locals may be driving with broken lights or just haven’t turned them on - farm trucks are extremely slow and you can be on them before you know it. Also, trucks have stopped or broke down in a traffic lane without any lights on or having placed warning device on the road.

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