Don’t rent a motorcycle!

The largest Nordic travel insurance company, SOS International a/s warns of a dramatic increase in Nordic tourists injured in motorcycle accidents when on vacation in South East Asia. For Thailand, the numbers have shot up from 67 in 2001 to 93 in 2002. Accidents last year in other countries were: Indonesia 4 injured, Philippines 4 injured, Vietnam 4 injured and Cambodia 1 injured.
      World wide SOS International recorded 297 accidents involving motorcycles. 106 of these took place in South East Asia. The statistics are significant, because SOS handles more than 56,000 different cases every year for the 115 insurance companies in Scandinavia that are co-owners of SOS International. The largest company outside this cooperation is Euro-Center handling tourists and residents insured with Europaeiske.
      ”I have had to send home three young Scandinavian men in coffins during the past four month of this year,” says Ytt Prabha, head of Euro-Center’s regional head office in Bangkok.
      ”I have seen so many tragedies,” she says. ”It’s often young men whose lives are cut short just because they drive too fast – often without crash helmet – or just because they are not familiar with the traffic rhythm and driving in the left hand side of the road.”
      ”They never think it could happen to them. So they just rent a motorbike, don’t check whether it is insured, forget to check if they are themselves – they just sign a rental contract in a language they cannot read. How often have I heard the remark “I didn’t know what I signed!”
      ”Sometimes they have a girl on the back seat who also gets hurt – or indeed gets killed – because of their stupidity.”
      Ytt Prabha handles every year about 10 death accidents involving Scandinavians in the Asia region – but mostly in Thailand. Last year, another four were seriously injured while 30 people broke an arm or a leg in the accident.
      A Thai or Vietnamese motorcycle looks as innocent as a motorcycle back home. But while back home the motorcycle can drive a maximum of 30 km. per hour, out here it can easily speed up to over 100 km per hour. They may be rented without a special MC driving license – the rental company often accepts a passport as the only driving license.
      “It may sound cynical, but it is in a way even more tragic when the person is left irreparably brain damaged. Initially the family will come and sit at their bedside but when it becomes evident that they will never recover it can destroy a whole family,” says Ytt Prabha who sadly enough knows what she is talking about.
      ”I am still in touch with several parents. I have promised one couple to go to the temple and pray for their son. It’s almost more than I can take.”
      ”A tragic case was one young girl who first had a minor accident where she burnt her leg on the exhaust pipe. “Now, don’t drive a motorcycle again!” I warned her. Nevertheless the following week she and a friend of hers rented each their motorcycle in Rayong – and had an accident which left one of the girls permanently brain damaged. The other girl who saw the nasty accidents has today mental problems reproaching herself for not insisting that they didn’t rent the bikes, now that they had actually been warned.”
      ”Another case was a young man who drove out into a crossing in Hanoi and was killed. One year after the accident, the family came out to follow in his footsteps the last few months of his life. Terrible!”
      The economic side of the many accidents is another serious matter. Last year, Euro-Center paid the equivalent to 15 mill Danish kroner in medical treatment and hospital bills of which, however, only some were to cover treatment after motorcycle accidents.
      “For the public health system back home it is also a heavy burden. When they come home they have to go through several follow-up treatments and costly physiotherapy,” Ytt Prabha adds.
      Communications Manager Madeleine Lawson of SOS International a/s also points to the heavy costs incurred by the increasing number of motorcycle accident. It was SOS International who last year by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked to arrange the medical evacuation of the unconscious and – as far as it could be ascertained – uninsured Dane Henning Hedegaard from Phuket in Thailand. In his case it was not a motorcycle but a car he had rented. The evacuation was intensively covered by the Danish press and created a heated public debate as to whether the government should step in and assist in cases like this.
      “We would very much like to assist in reducing the number of these accidents and inform tourists how to avoid them,” says Madeleine Lawson.
      A third company which insures in particular young backpackers is Gouda Travel Insurance, but according to Ninni Rosendahl of Gouda, this company has so far not many accidents of this sort among their clients.
      ”Luckily it is extremely seldom we have insurance claims where the cause was a rented motorbike,” Ninni Rosendahl says. “We may have 3 – 5 per year, and last year no accidents with serious consequences.
      Ninni Rosendahl only recalls one specific case where a young insured male had an accident with a rented motorcycle.
      “He sustained an open fracture to his skull and had his jaw smashed – but his claim was rejected because he was intoxicated after a round on several bars and furthermore had been driving without a helmet,” she adds.
      “My personal guess why we don’t have more of these cases is that our clients typically travel far and on their own to explore distant places and go for unique nature adventures. I believe this type of accident is more a problem with charter tourists who travel to have a bit of a “wild time” and on these destinations you can rent a motorcycle on every street corner.”
      Gouda Travel Insurance insures travellers not only from Denmark but recently also from Norway and Sweden. In Sweden the agency has been active for six years, while in Norway it has only been on the market for one year.
      When the injured person has no insurance, the case will typically end up with the consular affairs department at the embassy of the patient. In Bangkok, the Danish cases are handled by Consul Ulrik Holt Sorensen.
      “We have had two serious accidents during the first half of this year where the cases ended up on my desk,” says Ulrik Holt Sorensen.
      “In these cases the family of the injured person will have to find ways to raise from a few thousand kroner and up till several hundred thousand kroner to pay for the costs. Therefore we repeatedly appeal to the young people to make sure they take out a travel insurance policy before leaving Denmark – and ensure that it is extended if the decide to extend their stay out here,” he adds.
      Any uninsured foreigner who is injured in an accident in Thailand will usually be admitted to a cheap local hospital where the medical standard is not so bad but where the service and hygiene may not be much to write home about. One day in a hospital bed in Thailand may easily cost from 1,500 and up to 1,800 Danish kroner.
      “And then they should praise themselves lucky if the accident occurs in Thailand. Here, a government hospital is still much better than for instance in Cambodia or Vietnam or even worse in Laos,” Mr. Sorensen comments.
      “Often the young people could just have contacted their parents and asked them to extend their travel insurance if they wish to travel beyond the time they had initially planned for. Young people are often irresponsibly sloppy when it comes to keeping their parents informed of where they are and what they do,” he remarks.
      “We don’t want to spoil their appetite for travel adventures,” says both Ulrik Holt Sorensen and Ytt Prabha.
      “But they should be told by all they get in touch with when planning their vacation how dangerous it is to rent a motorcycle and that they had better think twice if that’s what they plan.”
      “We have a moral responsibility to tell people, not only the young travellers themselves, but also the parents who send their children off for a travel adventure in Asia, how dangerous it could be to rent a motorcycle,” says Ytt Prabha who adds that preferable a separate insurance should be required for people planning to rent motorcycles. At least it would send a strong signal how dead seriously they should take the danger involved.

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