Riding around the city of Phnom Penh can sometimes be challenging. Whether your mode of transportation is a car, tuk tuk, motorbike or a bicycle, the traffic is horrendous, and sharing the road with all types of transportation can be dangerous. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in Cambodia. Speeding and drunk driving are the main causes, and motorbikes are the most common vehicle involved in traffic accidents. The traffic laws in Cambodia are not regularly enforced.
There are police officers on most busy street corners, but the only time you see police officers working are when they stop drivers and fine them for petty traffic violations. Due to the police officers’ low monthly salaries, often the money (fines) is pocketed, and they also charge foreigners more than locals. Why do the law enforcers target foreigners? It’s because the foreigners do not want to hassle with this and will pay whatever the police officers ask.
For the locals, they will stay and bargain with the law enforcers until the police officers are frustrated and let the locals pay for what they asked, just to get them out of their hair, so they can focus on collecting more fines. Try to bargain first, and ask for a receipt after you pay the fine. Yes, corruption in the police system exists in Cambodia. In other developing countries, the corruption is hidden. Getting into a traffic accident can be a traumatic experience, both physical and emotional.
Major fatalities are from road accidents which involves tour buses travelling throughout the country and getting hit by drunk drivers, especially at night. Some are driven by 17- and 18-year-olds, without a driver’s licence, and driving under the influence of alcohol. As a result, many insurance companies have stopped selling insurance to the bus companies, and the government is not doing anything about it. This issue is not on the government’s priority list, despite the fact that traffic accidents claimed more than 2,000 lives in 2010, according to the World Health Organization.
Road safety programs have been implemented by several organisations to bring awareness and education to this growing issue. It is very important to wear a helmet when riding a motorbike. Handicap International stated that more than 80 per cent of fatalities are due to head injuries. The road safety public awareness campaign for helmet safety has been effective, and the number of riders wearing helmets has doubled this year. Another road traffic law being enforced is wearing a seat belt. This is common practice in Western countries, and many do follow this law in Cambodia.
But what if the car you are in does not have seat belts? Most of the vehicles are second-hand cars and many would not pass safety standards, or they are vehicles that were in major crashes and only the exterior of the car was fixed before being imported from other countries. The government needs to intervene in traffic regulations and the traffic laws which include major violations like drunk driving and speeding, which need to be strictly enforced. I remember what my former driver education teacher taught me when I was learning how to drive a car in the US – be proactive and not reactive.