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September 20, 2017

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Meet the dead: Thailand's drink drivers sent to work in morgues

How can society deter drink and reckless driving? Send offending drivers to work in the morgues, Thai authorities say.

Thailand's roads are the world's second deadliest after Libya, and with fatality rates on the roads continuing to rise each year, authorities are scrambling to prevent horrific accidents.

One of the various measures they have used is to compel drivers to meet the dead first hand.

Since April 2016, more than 7,000 Thais who failed breathalyzer tests or were charged with reckless driving have been sent to hospitals across the country to work in morgues as part of their community service.

"This is called shock therapy. People will not be able to visualize the horror they can cause otherwise," said Rayong Vienglor, a local director in the country's probation department.

"We need to do something about it," Rayong said, referring to the country's high number of road deaths despite the government's tougher measures on alcohol sales and seatbelt use.

Drink drivers are typically ordered by courts to complete 12 to 48 hours of community service, which vary depending on the participants' skills, and can include activities like teaching music to children with disabilities or gardening.

Some with basic medical knowledge are sent to help rescue workers in the field so they can see lives being saved, or lost, up close.

At hospitals, community service workers are assigned to clean the morgues, sweeping and mopping the floors, and scrubbing clean the refrigerated body containers.

But before they get down and dirty, there is a pep talk to ensure the offenders get the message.

"I'm imploring all of you not to drink and drive ever again. I don't want to see you end up like these dead people," Yolchai Jongjirasiri, medical director at Bangkok's Sirindhorn Hospital, told a group of some 40 participants joining the monthly programme in September.

"Will you do it again? Will you swear to the sun on your head you will not do it again?" Yolchai asked the group repeatedly.

"No, we won't do it again," the group obliged.

The drastic method, which includes pulling bodies out from the containers with blankets covering them, is meant to deter people from becoming repeat offenders of the road laws, officials say.

"We are just a tiny part of the equation. But it is better than doing nothing," said Yolchai, adding that Sirindhorn Hospital can barely accommodate the number of patients injured in drink-driving accidents.

Nearly all of those sent to work in the city's morgues are men, the department of probation said.

Several participants at Sirindhorn Hospital told dpa that seeing dead bodies made them realize the extent of damage they could have caused.

"This is my first time seeing dead bodies. It was scary even with the cover on. It made me realize nothing in life is certain," said Piyapong Manora, a 30-year-old office worker.

"In a way, I'm glad I was caught at the checkpoint before I ended up killing someone that night," said Thanakorn Jongjamfah, a 37-year-old business owner who drove home after drinking with friends to celebrate the Thai water festival in April.

"I will still drink. My job requires me to. But now I will definitely think twice about driving after drinking," Thanakorn added.

For others, the impact is more serious.

"I won't drink again, ever. I don't want to die like that," said Sontipop Temsongsai, a 24-year-old computer repair technician.

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