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Cambodia's unsafe roads

Sokcheng ThaiAugust 4, 2016

Despite government efforts to improve road safety, traffic accidents continue to cause a high rate of deaths and significant financial loss in Cambodia. What can be done to cut down on the number of crashes?

Kambodscha Straßenverkehr Straßenszene
Image: Getty Images/AFP/C.Sothy

Cambodia has seen a dramatic rise in the number of motor vehicles on its streets in recent years. This increase has been accompanied by a jump in traffic accidents, many of which result in deaths and serious injuries.

In 2015, there were 4,595 accidents reported in Cambodia, which together killed 2,265 people - an increase of 117 from the year before - and severely injured more than 4,400.

Traffic laws and regulations, lacking proper implementation, have done little to slow the loss of life.

For instance, over 80 percent of the vehicles sold in Cambodia do not meet basic safety standards, says Ear Chariya, director of the Phnom Penh-based Institute for Road Safety.

Cambodia also incurs a significant financial cost every year as a result of poor road safety. The country lost $337 million in 2013 as a result of the accidents, the nongovernmental organization Handicap International estimated.

Ineffective laws?

Furthermore, drivers in Cambodia often violate traffic laws and drunk driving is common. And in 50 percent of the accident cases, the perpetrators of the accidents go unpunished.

This is why many experts and international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) are calling on rapidly motorizing low and middle income countries like Cambodia to ensure the effective implementation of the laws and standards.

"There are four main factors causing tragic road accidents in Cambodia: limited public awareness of traffic laws, corruption in the process of issuing driving licenses, inefficient driving schools and the lax implementation of laws," road safety expert Ear Chariya told DW.

Also, poor oversight of the vehicle standards contributes to the problem. Furthermore, the quality of roads in the Southeast Asian nation continues to remain poor.

Traffic police usually check if the drivers are wearing helmets or have their seat belts fastened, but they rarely verify if the driver has a proper license. And many motorists in the country drive without one.

In early 2016, Cambodia introduced a new traffic law which mandates regular license checks. Fines are imposed on drivers caught without a license. But many objections were raised by aggrieved unlicensed drivers.

Stepping up efforts

Following their complaints, the government decided to amend the law, allowing an exception for the bikes with a capacity below 125cc. But this meant at least 85 percent of all registered vehicles in the country are exempted.

"The elimination of a license requirement for vehicles below 125cc is no different from telling people that you do not need to have proper knowledge and skills to drive," Chariya stressed.

In a bid to prevent road accidents, the government has stepped up public awareness campaigns such as increased publicity about road safety on television and billboards.

However, experts doubt the effectiveness of these measures. They say changing public attitudes takes time and requires a lot more effort.

"The government should introduce traffic education into the school curriculum, strengthen the quality of driving education and license, and ensure the law is regularly enforced," Chariya said.