Samui Wining & Dining
Excess Denied

Drinking and driving can get you into all sorts of trouble, including here, on Samui!


15It’s been the same since time began: long before befuddled people fell off horses or dumped their carts into ditches. Or – speaking locally – discovered that coconut trees don’t bend when you drive into them. The problem is one of perception … your own! (Now and again, mine, too.) It all begins with that wonderful feeling of relaxed well-being you get when you have a drink. That mildly-buzzing gentle high when you feel just great and the whole world is perfect (you’re on holiday, after all).


The problem is that you want more! You want better well-being and a less-gentle high. So you have few more drinks, but you don’t really feel any different. So you have a few more. And you still don’t feel that much different. Except that now you know you’re a teensy bit intoxicated but that’s all right: I mean it’s not as if you’re falling about all over the place, is it?


If human beings were born with little lights on their heads that began flashing red when they were drunk then by this time yours would be spinning and giving off a steady series of loud beeps. Oddly, evolution somehow seems to have favoured the offshoot of humanity without warning lights, even though a great many of them have already failed to survive by falling (blind drunk) over the edges of things (cliffs, buildings, ships, etc.). And this is also the point in your alcoholic excursion when the voice of sobriety needs to be at least heard, if not always heeded. If fate is kind to you then this will come in the form of a concerned friend. And if not it could well appear in the form of the long arm of the law, extending towards you some kind of device designed to find out exactly how unfit due to drinking you are, especially when it comes to driving.


You see, even though you still feel fine and hardly drunk at all, you aren’t and you are. But how much you drink and how it affects your behaviour is not a realistic yardstick: some folk are giggling and shouting after a couple of beers and others are still quiet and coherent after a couple of pints – of vodka! Every civilised country is well-aware of this and their officers-of-the-law are trained and equipped to determine the suspect’s ability to drive a vehicle. If found to be ‘over the limit’ then the resulting reprisal is rapid, but it varies considerably from one part of the world to the next. As does the actual method of measuring the degree of sobriety, or lack of, thereof!


Almost avoiding the old joke that Saudi Arabia has just added 20 lashes to a bottle of Scotch in their current budget, Sweden has the toughest drink-driving system anywhere in the world. Let me explain. In the USA, for instance, four cans of beer will put an average male on the limit with a blood-alcohol-content (BAC) of 0.8. But in Sweden, a BAC of merely 0.1 (half a can of beer) will attract a charge of Aggravated Drunk Driving and additionally incur a prison sentence of up to two years. Finland has a similar policy, and Scandinavia as a whole has the lowest rate of drink-related traffic-fatalities in the world (so their draconian measures seem to work then).


This is all very organised and scientific but elsewhere the appropriate retribution takes different forms, some quaint and inconsistent and others positively brutal. Ignoring ‘slight sipping’, what follows is the heavy-duty stuff; what will happen to you if you’re nabbed whilst roaring drunk!


Malaysia doesn’t welcome this state of affairs at all; offenders are jailed and their hapless wives are also dragged off to detention – even if they weren’t actually with their inebriated spouse at the time. Bulgaria really puts its foot down with a firm hand: a second serious infringement goes all the way, resulting in the death penalty. But even this is preferable to El Salvador – just one serious offence results in execution by a firing squad!


But it’s not all as grim as this everywhere. In Turkey, for example, drunken drivers are taken 20 miles outside the city limits and forced to walk back. And in Costa Rica the police simply remove the number plates from the car in question. Poland punishes its drunks with a fine and compulsory attendance at a series of political lectures (some might argue that a custodial sentence is preferable). But the Australians really rub it in. As well as a night in jail, a fine or suspension of licence, local newspapers print a bold column each day with a list of names and the heading, ‘He’s Drunk and in Jail!’.


Which brings us to the here and now; the state of play in Thailand and, more specifically, the delightful island upon which you are reading this, Koh Samui. First point: Thailand has some strict laws on this subject. The permitted BAC is only 0.5 and drink-related accidents resulting in fatalities can result in a maximum fine of 200,000 baht and up to 10 years in jail. Second point: the Kingdom of Thailand has many strict laws, but not all the time and not everywhere are they always strictly enforced.


Samui, for example, is particularly laid-back on the subject in comparison to places on the mainland. There are regular spot checks, true, but a scientific determination of BAC has yet to make its appearance here. The oft-deployed process at a spot-check is that if the smell of alcohol is detected then the officer will ask the driver to get out of the car. Any staggering about or aggression ends the matter on the spot! Failing that, then a walking circuit around the car is requested. If there’s no wobbling, lurching or falling down, then off the driver goes on his way again.


Accidents are a different matter, however. It’s very unlikely that you’ll see a court of law; the majority of infringements are dealt with by a spot fine that varies according to the circumstances. But be warned! Whether it’s your fault or not, if there’s evidence that you’ve been drinking (merely word of mouth from the police will be enough) then your insurance becomes invalid. And that means everything comes out of your pocket; repairs to both vehicles, cost of hospital treatment and ambulances, the lot (and that can easily mount up to millions of baht!).


There are dopey dogs that stroll across the roads at random, kids on motorbikes overtaking like demons, vehicles flying out of side streets or turning without signalling, cars driving on the wrong side and a layer of sand on every bend. It’s sometimes tricky enough to get where you’re going in broad daylight and sober, so, truly, don’t tempt fate and try it at night after a good few drinks. It’s just not worth it. It could ruin your holiday – or worse. And we really do want to see you here again, next year and in all the years to come!


Rob De Wet


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