BANGKOK - Thailand's military government is cracking down on traffic carnage, invoking special executive powers accorded by an interim constitution to force automobile drivers and all their passengers to wear seat belts.
The move by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha came ahead of next month's celebration of the traditional Songkran New Year's holiday, which sees many of the country's urban residents travel to their rural home villages for revelry, often fueled by alcohol. In last year's weeklong holiday, dubbed the "Seven Days of Death, '' 442 people died in road accidents.
A U.N. agency estimated that Thailand has the second-highest rate of traffic fatalities in the world. Seat belts are already required for drivers and front-seat passengers.
Prayuth has been criticized for frequent use of the constitution's Article 44, which is supposed to be used to address situations endangering public order. Use of Article 44 bypasses the interim legislature that was established after the army overthrew an elected government in 2014.
"I understand the intention, that they want to address traffic safety,'' said Gothom Arya, a professor and social activist. "I don't agree with the use of Article 44. If they want to introduce new laws, they can talk to the National Legislative Assembly, who are always happy to cooperate, from what we've seen. Is this issue really so urgent and necessary? I don't see it.''
The assembly generally does whatever the ruling junta wants, often with some mild debate but not necessarily quickly.
The new seat belt measure, which took effect Tuesday, enforces compliance by declaring that car owners who don't pay fines for failing to have their passengers use seat belts will not be able to register their vehicles for a year.
Another decree, also published Tuesday, tightens regulations on vehicles used for public transport, such as commuter vans. One new rule allows authorities to revoke a vehicle's registration or suspend a professional driver's license for up to six months if he or she is found guilty of offenses such as overcharging passengers, carrying too many passengers or committing drug-related crimes.