The Central Administrative Court last week dropped a bombshell that appears to have shaken the Royal Thai Police (RTP).
The court ruled that two announcements issued by the RTP years ago, which allowed police to issue predetermined fines for traffic violations, are unconstitutional and unlawful.
The court’s unprecedented ruling is retroactive until July 2020, meaning all traffic tickets issued in the past three years by the police are invalid, and the fines which were already paid to the RTP must be refunded.
About 17.9 million traffic tickets were issued last year alone, but only 20% of them were paid.
However, the ruling is not final, as the RTP has the right to make an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court within 30 days of the Central Administrative Court’s verdict.
The court’s ruling, though belated, is welcome news to many of us who have paid ticket fines demanded by the police, unaware that we had the right to challenge the amounts, which may have been disproportionate to the offence.
Credit should also be given to Supa Chote-ngam, former director of legal affairs at the Land Transport Department, for taking this case to the Central Administrative Court.
As ruled by the court, the national police chief has no authority in setting the amount of fines in advance. Traffic police are supposed to set the amount as they see fit, but within set limits, the court said.
The ruling may have rendered a blow to the police, but this should not discourage traffic police officers from continuing to strictly enforce traffic rules to ensure safety for all road users, including pedestrians.
Thailand remains a dangerous country as far as road accidents are concerned. According to the Thailand Road Accidents Data Centre for Road Safety Culture, 13,617 people died and 883,314 were injured in road accidents in 2021, which is about 35 deaths per day on average.
A lack of discipline and disregard for the law and public safety are the norm for many motorists.
In 2019, The New York Times reported that road accidents involving motorcycles in Thailand ranked No.1 in the world.
As a reminder, those who received traffic tickets in the past three years and have not paid their fines may be exempted from paying due to the Central Administrative Court’s ruling.
However, the ruling does not absolve them from the offences they allegedly committed.
Supplementary measures to enhance the effectiveness of enforcing traffic laws, such as the demerit points system introduced on Jan 9, should strictly be enforced.
According to the Thailand Development Research Institute Foundation, the same system in Italy has reduced road accidents by about 10% and deaths by about 25% while increasing the number of seat belt users from 54% to 83%.
Traffic police should not be disheartened by the ruling. They should strive hard to enforce the law and use their discretion when imposing fines.
Also, they should not be offended when challenged by drivers who are exercising their rights.