Cyclists have been shocked by the death last Wednesday of Mary Thompson and Peter Root in Phanom Sarakham, Thailand. The couple from Guernsey were cycling around the world and blogging their adventures when they were rear-ended by a pickup truck.
Highway 304 in Phanom Sarakham, where Root and Thompson were killed.
News reports quoted the driver as saying he "was reaching down to pick up a cap on the floor" and took his eyes off the road. The Thai tourist agency has apologized to their families, and a transportation professor said that foreign tourists should be warned about the dangerous behavior of Thai drivers.
The problem goes deeper than this, and of course it doesn't just affect European tourists. The Daily Mail mentioned that "Thailand is well known for its perilous roads, with more than 13,000 killed and almost 1million injured each year in accidents." The vast majority of these dead and injured are presumably local Thai citizens. Any response to Root and Thompson's death should make Thailand's roads safer for everyone.
Unfortunately, any safety measures would go against a strong push in the opposite direction. The road where Thompson and Root were killed, Highway 304, is listed as part of Asian Highway 19, the Central Subcorridor of the Southern Economic Corridor (PDF) of the Greater Mekong Subregion. In other words, it's one of the main routes from Bangkok to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Since the Greater Mekong Subregion was established in 1992, the Asian Development Bank and various governments have pumped billions of dollars into the highway network. From 2004 to 2007, it helped fund the widening of a large section of Highway 304 from a two lane country road to a divided four-lane stroad.
I wonder how much of that road-widening money came from the United Kingdom government, the de facto ruler of Guernsey, and from companies headquartered in Guernsey. I wonder how much of the money came from the United States and companies headquartered here. Regardless, the ideology of wider roads and faster cars and trucks comes largely from the US and the UK.
Mary Thompson and Peter Root may have been killed by a distracted driver in Thailand, but the seeds of their death were planted in Europe and North America.