Accident victims join alcohol-free push

While many people are celebrating Songkran, the holiday serves only to remind 32-year-old Suksan Prombutr of the time that he enjoyed the moment too much and woke up disabled.

Thirteen years ago, Mr Suksan went on a drinking rampage for Songkran, starting the day before and continuing into the main day with little respite.

Then a prominent muay Thai boxer, he jumped on his motorcycle with his younger brother and roared through a town in Pathum Thani to join the festival. He accepted alcoholic drinks offered by many strangers who stopped him to splash the pair with water.

The non-stop drinking began to catch up with him. He dozed off on the motorbike on the way home. The bike crashed, knocking him against the footpath. His brother landed without serious injury.

But for Mr Suksan, the outcome was different. He woke up to find his backbone broken and severe damage to his central nervous system. He has lived in a wheelchair ever since.

"This was an expensive lesson. It changed my life forever — from a boxer to a cripple,” he said. “Now I always tell people not to ever drink and drive.”

It took Mr Suksan years to accept his fate, but eventually he was able to pull his life together. Today, he is an inspired speaker for road safety campaigns and a wheelchair basketball player for Ayutthaya province.

He notes particularly the Road Safety Direction Centre's report for the road toll last year — 592,645 injuries, 1,271 people crippled and 7,084 dead. Hundreds died during the New Year and Songkran holiday periods. The World Health Organisation's Global Status report on Road Safety 2013 says 26% of road traffic deaths in Thailand involved alcohol. The government has tried to curb the high road accident rate, but the death toll remains high every year.

The term of “the seven dangerous days” was created as part of the road safety campaign for long holidays such as New Year and Songkran, but this has troubled authorities since it is considered a reflection of their inability to deal with the chronic problem. On Friday, caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra proposed that the Songkran holidays, April 11-17, should be known as the "seven days of safety" instead of "seven dangerous days".

“People may have become familiar with the term 'seven dangerous days'. But many are not aware of it, even if it's clear that many lives are lost during this period of time because of alcohol. It's not right to see road accidents as a normal matter,” said Surasit Sinlapa-ngam, director of the Don't Drink Drive Foundation.

The foundation has tried to push the government into more serious efforts to enforce alcohol-related laws. It proposed to the cabinet that it completely ban alcohol sales on April 13 every year, but the attempt failed. “Some people think an occasional bit of drink and driving is a minor matter. But it's actually a big issue. If you are drunk, it's not only about being your business. It affects others,” said Sukanya Thanitham, 33, who has lived in wheelchair since being hit by a motorcycle 18 years ago.

She was riding her motorcycle across an intersection near the Golden Pagoda in Bangkok when another motorcycle ridden by a drunk man with two friends on board ran a red light and smashed into her. The back of her head hit the ground heavily and her spine was broken, resulting in the loss of all feeling in her legs. The man was never caught.

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