ASEAN Monitor - May 2017

Festivities and Fatalities: ASEAN's Unsafe Roads 

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand share close cultural ties, and thus also share common New Year traditions, occurring at the same time. The month of April marks the beginning of New Year celebrations in the CLMT countries. In Cambodia, the festivities see Khmer families visiting temples, performing purification rituals, and attending dedication ceremonies to their ancestors, among other rituals of thanks for the coming new year. In Laos, Pi Mai Lao is the occasion where Buddha images are washed (to signify cleansing), temples repainted and homes cleaned. Revolving around family and faith, renewal and revelry, Pi Mai Lao also provides the opportunity for the young to pour water on the hands of their elders and ask for their blessings in the year ahead. In Myanmar, the five-day Thingyan festivities include special food, traditional songs and dances called the "Yane". In Thailand, Thais across the country visit their local temples and offer food to Buddhist monks. While Buddha statues are gently bathed with water and elders are shown respect by having water poured over their hands, many locals and foreign visitors participate in what has evolved to be the world's biggest water fight. For many tourists, the water fights are synonymous with ASEAN's New Year traditions as the occasion provides for grand celebrations. It is a major tourism draw, boosting ASEAN economies, CLMT countries in particular, during the New Year period. 
However, away from economic considerations, there is a darker side to the ASEAN New Year celebrations, which causes thousands of road accidents and assaults. In Thailand alone, there were a total of 390 deaths from road accidents that the Thai Interior Ministry has chiefly attributed to drunk driving accidents during the period of 11-17 April this year. While the occasion demands proper celebrations by locals and tourists alike, there are greater incentives for all ASEAN countries to stress the significance of responsible and sustainable celebrations during the festive periods. Marking the end of the New Year and in view of the upcoming Global Road Safety Week in May (as well as in line with the SDG 3 target aiming to halve the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020), ASEAN policymakers are provided with a vital task to review and enhance ASEAN legislations on key risk factors concerning road traffic fatalities in the region.