One Saturday at least, I think that “I” was the luckiest guy in the Land of Smiles (LOS) aka known as “Thailand”.
I was driving out in one of the provinces near Bangkok that day with my Thai friend Y. and her sister T., with me at the wheel of their pickup truck.
I slowed moderately coming up to a busy village that had a market of sorts along one side and many people. Shortly after slowing we heard a grinding noise quite clearly behind us. Looking into the rear view mirror I could see that the motorbike that had been close on my tail for the last 10 kilometers or more, had just wiped out behind us. He had laid it right down on the pavement and slid along with it for a good (and painful) 10 meters or more. I immediately pulled over to see if we could assist.
Thankfully the guy driving the bike had survived. In fact he had managed, with help, to stand the bike up and roll it over to the side of the road. At that point he was sitting on the ground in a daze due to shock. We all cringed at his condition because he had very serious skin loss on one whole side of his body, and significant lacerations on his other hand. Lucky he had been wearing a helmet at the time. My inquiries to the locals as to whether there was a hospital nearby went unanswered. My Thai friends inquired and then told me they understood that the police were coming. Finally an ambulance came to take care of him and he was transported away.
Then it was time to try to sort out the details of what had actually happened as the Thai police were now on the scene and were inspecting our vehicle. We were pretty Jai Yen about this as the situation was pretty clear to us, i.e. “not our fault” we had just slowed down appropriately given the roadside activity in the village.
However, a “supposed” witness in village was saying that we had “hooked” the motorbike rider. This was absolutely not possible since he was behind us on a two lane road (or he would had to have be trying to pass us unsafely in extremely close proximity and somehow drifted into us).
The first Thai policeman at the scene inspected both vehicles in detail. I was rather amazed at the time spent reviewing and pointing at a “mark” on one side of our vehicle. It was only a finger width stripe about a meter long where the dirt had just been cleaned off. I casually trailed a finger lightly across another area nearby to reproduce a similarly clean stripe. It was somewhat fortunate that were NO truly real scrapes or abrasions of any kind, neither fresh nor old, along the sides of our vehicle.
I attempted to explain that we had just slowed down, and that perhaps the motorbike rider had rear-ended us, causing him to go down, but the officer didn’t speak much English, and I could only manage the equivalent of “I slow down, not hit” which didn’t get me too far. My two Thai companions explained emphatically the facts as we knew them, but it was obvious from the tone that they were not being believed either.
My jai yen was turning to unease, but we kept our cool the whole time.
An officer in full uniform then showed up and took control of the situation, and did a more thorough review including diagrams, pacing out the scrape mark on the road etc.
But he had decided that direction of the skid (right down the center of the lane) meant the motorbike rider could not have hit our rear (bike rider would have spun off to one side or another, not stayed in the middle of the lane), and the opinion of the villager was carrying more weight than our own re-iteration that the motorbike had been behind us for quite a long time and it was simply not possible for us to have hit him.
Although there were no significant marks on our either side of our vehicle, it was not looking good for me at that point in terms of “blame”. My Thai friends continued to explain and discuss the matter and their faces were not looking happier either. The lead officer shouted a little, which put my Thai friend Y off a bit (she is a very well mannered and educated young Thai lady). Unbeknownst to me at the time she proceeded to tell the officer that I was her very good friend and there was no need to be impolite.
Now the police wanted to impound my passport. I pointed out that it was not legal for me to be without my passport, which almost back-fired since they were more than willing to be accommodating that way and just impound “me” along with my passport.
At this point readers may be seriously questioning my definition of luck, but this is amazing Thailand after all and things are never quite what they seem on the surface.
I got lucky because:
a) bike driver was a farang (foreigner) and not Thai (had the rider been Thai I would be automatically to blame unless proven otherwise)
b) my friend Y. is in fact a Thai lawyer (although to her credit, she doesn’t mis-use that position ever since she has a lot of class & top notch ethics)
My friend Y. insisted that the police NOT take my passport, and finally pulled out her lawyer ID card to “up the ante” in the game. She indicated to the police that my drivers license and her and her sisters Thai ID cards would be more than sufficient, and the police accepted that.
After conferring with her insurance representative who was now on the scene, we finally got to the Police HQ.
Now the tone had changed with the Police… I finally got the chance for some input, and pointed out that the guy on the motorbike had been following us for the last 10 kilo at 80 km/hr only about 15 to 20 meters behind, and that all I did was slow down. The other driver was following too close, and would have had trouble stopping quickly.
After some more discussion they returned our cards and let us go – making it clear that there was no blame on our part.
However, if the motorbike driver had been Thai and / or I didn’t have a lawyer with me, I suspect the outcome would have been quite different.
We all truly feel very sorry for the motorbike rider – that was some really wicked “road rash” that he received.
Whether you are riding a motorbike or driving a car in Thailand – something to think about either way.
But that is not quite the end of the story. After our ID was handed back, Y.’s sister T. proceeded to berate the lead officer for changing his mind only because Y. was a lawyer, and that the police should treat EVERYONE the same, and with good manners. I don’t think the officer quite knew how to deal with this, but he wasn’t about to lose face by reversing his decision, and it gave me the opportunity to smooth things by shaking his hand, smiling and being gracious & understanding about the situation.
And yet another twist, after recounting the story to two friends who are very knowledgeable about Thailand & living here, their perspective was “better to just keep on driving, and not have stopped”. Not something I could do, but I have to wonder if spending a lot of time over in Thailand could change that.