Revisit the pickup rule

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Department of Land Transport (DLT) and police must come up with a clear decision on pickup tray passengers soon or confusion will reign.

Initial talks between the DLT and police on Tuesday produced a few suggestions but no resolution. The general public are thus left in a limbo as the government earlier said the rule barring people from sitting in the rear space, or tray, of pickup trucks will be enforced after the Songkran holidays.

The holidays are over but nobody knows how long the grace period for the pickup tray rule will last or what kind of restrictions will be applied in its place.

The situation is tricky for authorities. The problem is rooted in a move by the NCPO using the power of Section 44 to require car passengers to wear seat belts all the time.

The April 5 order effectively banned people from riding in the tray of pickup trucks, a popular practice among rural people who often travel together to save on transportation costs.

Although the rule obviously stemmed from the government's concern for public safety, it was met with a heavy backlash from people who viewed it as an unnecessary burden, and the government had to roll it back on the same day.

While the unpopular pickup rule is put on hold temporarily, the DLT and police must find a way out that does not contravene the NCPO order, which is still in effect, while being acceptable to commuters who rejected the ban out of hand.

One of the proposed options is for the police to issue an exemption allowing people to ride in the pickup tray but setting a speed limit and the number of people allowed as passengers. Another is for police to designate zones where people will be allowed to ride in pickup truck trays such as on minor or community roads.

Yet another proposal is for the DLT to issue a regulation requiring that safety belts be installed in the rear space of a pickup.

Apparently, the police and DLT are yet to agree on which agency will have to issue a regulation to modify the rule and appease pickup travellers. It's not their fault. All of the options that have been floated so far appear to be half-hearted measures that will not serve to fulfil the NCPO's original goal of ensuring safety for road users.

Some may even cause further confusion and difficulties when put into practice. The zoning proposal, for example, will impose more burdens on traffic police who will have to monitor pickup trucks along these routes but the restriction itself does not necessarily ensure that pickup tray passengers will be safer if an accident happens.

At the end of the day, the authorities will have to admit the pickup tray debacle should not be settled by stop-gap measures. The NCPO indeed had good intentions in trying to make sure that rules are introduced that will keep people safe when travelling on the roads. The regime's action in launching the executive order without preparation or public consultation, however, was too hasty.

To address the fallout from the ban, it would be best for the authorities to go back to the original NCPO's order No.14/2017 requiring all car passengers to wear seat belts.

If the regime still believes the rule is necessary to increase the safety of road users but was implemented imprudently, then it should suspend the order for a set period of time until preparations to ensure its successful roll-out can be put in place.

If the military rulers consider the ferocious criticism and think the rule was inappropriate for people's lifestyles and that other measures may be more useful to meet the same purpose, then they should rescind the order. Half-baked modifications are not required.

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