Import liberalisation since 2011 has resulted in a massive increase in the number of vehicles on Myanmar’s roads and a corresponding sharp rise in traffic accidents. Figures released by the Myanmar Police Force and the World Health Organisation show the number of reported road accident fatalities in 2013 was 13,907. That’s a death rate of 7.6 for every 100,000 people, or three times higher than 2006 when it was 2.5 for every 100,000 people. Actress and soon-to-be-qualified doctor Thu Thu, also known as Chit Thu Wai, has been nominated to become Myanmar’s first road safety ambassador. Thu Thu told Mizzima Weekly’s Oliver Slow she wants to use her celebrity status to spread a road safety message.
Who nominated you to be Myanmar’s road safety ambassador?
I was put forward by my professor, U Thit Lwin, at the University of Medicine 1. He’s an orthopaedic surgeon. I work with him and I think it’s partly because I am an actress [that I was nominated]. They want to use somebody who is a celebrity, not that I’m saying I am a big one, to raise awareness about the issue. I want to be involved … and if I become an ambassador for road safety, I will be able to hold talks in schools about road safety awareness. They want to start road safety education at the primary school level, so I would need to go and talk to a lot of children and that is the main reason why I have accepted this.
What road safety message will you be giving the children?
If you want to educate adults, people always listen to their kids. It’s more effective to go through children if you want to educate the public. We’re obviously not going to start educating the children how to drive, but road safety is not just about the people who drive, but also the pedestrians, and children are often pedestrians because they walk to school or class, so it’s about educating people how to avoid road traffic accidents also.
Apart from educating children, what else needs to be done?
I think the most important thing is law enforcement. There has been an increase in the number of imported cars and people have started driving but are not familiar with them, have not had proper training and do not understand the rules, or obey them. So there needs to be more law enforcement for things such as speeding and drink driving, which contribute to road accidents. It cannot keep going the way it is. Authorities need to do something. People have to pay fines if they don’t stick to the rules, otherwise they will just keep breaking the rules.
You mentioned a lack of driver training. is it true that it’s possible to obtain a driver’s licence by paying a fee and not taking a test?
I don’t know if that’s the case. I know that my sister had to sit a theory test and do a practical test to get her licence.
The Yangon-Mandalay Highway has been dubbed the ‘Death Highway’ because of its high number of road accident fatalities. How can this situation be improved?
Well it’s a very clear road. We don’t get to drive on such a road like that very often, so some people go very quickly on it and there are a lot of accidents there. So I think it’s more about people not obeying the rules and driving too quickly and this is about education.
Is it the role of the government or the public to improve road safety in Myanmar?
It cannot be accomplished by just one side, I think it needs to be done by both sides equally.