My Thai driving licence

Tom Clegg breaks a lifetime habit to do something useful explaining how to get a Thai driving licence in Chiang Mai.

By | Sat 1 Jul 2017

This month I thought I’d present my lecture on something useful. Last month I finally decided to go all legal and get myself a proper Thai motorcycle licence. The below might be helpful for those who are perhaps thinking of doing the same.

On a drizzly Monday morning I dragged myself out of bed at an ungodly hour and got myself down to the Chiang Mai Land Transport Office on the Hang Dong Road. As well as the usual passport photocopies, the required medical exam and proof of address I handed over my decades-old paper UK driving licence. Part of me hoped that, a bit like cars of a certain vintage being exempt from road tax, my antique licence might be regarded with such awe that I would be handed a brand new Thai licence there and then. It doesn’t work like that, apparently. I was handed a ticket with a number on it and told to visit the first of many desks.

It appears the rules for getting a licence may have changed recently. I had been informed that it took the best part of a day, involved a quick multiple choice exam and then a jaunt around a test track. In fact it’s a two-day affair, the first of which involves tests for colour blindness, reaction times and a whole five-hours of sitting in a classroom with the aircon up to eleven watching films and slideshows on road safety. It’s all in Thai, so if you aren’t pretty proficient take a book to read. The Land Traffic Act film has subtitles, but unless you are sitting in the front row, you probably won’t be able to read them.

But worry not, I’ve gone through the Act for you and picked out the more important sections and subsections. First up something that has baffled me ever since arriving in Thailand:
Section 25: Meaning of whistle signal by the police: One long whistle — Stop. Two short whistles — Proceed. So that’s finally cleared that up.

I especially like the existential Section 43h: No driver shall drive the vehicle without thinking about the safety and suffering of other persons.
And while we’re at it, let’s clear up that whole ‘overtaking’ on the left is perfectly permissible in Thailand thing. Many a time I have been unpleasantly surprised by the appearance of another motorbike unexpectedly speeding up my inside. Section 45 stipulates that: No driver shall overtake another vehicle from the left-side unless: a. the vehicle to be overtaken is making a right turn or has given a signal that he is going to make a right turn, or b. the roadway is arranged with two or more traffic lanes in the same direction. So now we know.

Visitors to Thailand could be forgiven for thinking the wearing of helmets is up to the discretion of the rider. Well according to section 122 it totally is for: monks, novices, ascetics, persons of other religions that require wearing of a turban or any persons under Ministerial Regulations. I’m not sure what being ‘under Ministerial Regulations’ is, but it doesn’t sound terribly specific. What constitutes an ascetic is also pretty loose.

The second day begins with an e-exam. This is taken at a computer where the student answers specific questions by choosing from four available answers. Common sense seems to be the best approach. Road signs were not designed to trick anxious students of the road. There are plenty of websites that publish example test questions and English translations of the road signs and road markings (see below) and a couple of hours revising these should get you up to speed. An extremely obvious top-tip is not to try and cheat in the exam with a smartphone. There are signs everywhere that remind you this is frowned upon and the guys at the test centre are pretty savvy to the practice. As one older non-Thai examinee found out, being caught cheating is just embarrassing and results in expulsion from the class. To achieve a pass one needs to get at least 45 of the 50 questions correct, but it seems that there are at least a couple of sittings each day in which to repeat the exam for those who fall short.

Once given the green light, it’s on to the practical exam. Again this is pretty straightforward. Stop at the stop signs, go round the traffic cones and drive along a slightly raised plank of wood without toppling off. Easy. Or so I thought. I, along with all but three of the 20 or so people taking the test failed. Why? Because having parked our bikes we had all taken our helmets off. Apparently the instructor hadn’t told us to remove our helmets so we would not be receiving the final stamp on our forms that would mean the freedom of the Thai roads. The rules say that failure of any part of the test means it cannot be repeated within three days, so you can imagine that most of us were more than a little peeved. Thankfully we were allowed to retake the exam after being shouted at for a bit, and were given a pass.

I hope this was helpful. I’m now off to drive around the moat looking for a police check point. As a farang I am bound to be pulled over, but for the first time ever I will pull out a valid licence and try not to look too smug.

Land Traffic Act:

Example test questions, road signs etc: