New limit of two adults, one child per moto; helmets now mandatory for passengers
After four days of debate, the National Assembly yesterday passed a sweeping new traffic law that for the first time will require motorbike passengers to wear helmets and limit the number of passengers.
Road safety advocates hope the new law, which replaces one passed in late 2006 and carries stiffer penalties for most offences, will help tackle the Kingdom’s road death toll of an average of six fatalities a day, though questions remain about how well it will be enforced.
The 92-article law stipulates mandatory helmet use for all motorbike passengers, including all children above the age of three. Under the current law, only drivers are required to wear helmets.
The new law also aims to tackle the endemic problem of overloaded motorbikes, with a maximum of two adults and one child to be allowed to ride at any one time.
Drunk drivers are also being targeted. Those caught with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.08 per cent will face a hefty minimum fine of $200, up from just $6.25 under the current law. They could also be sentenced to between one and six months in prison if convicted.
Transport Minister Tram Iv Tek said the new law also requires all car passengers to wear seat belts in rural areas – because of the risk posed by speeding on the open roads – but not in the city.
“We see that 90 per cent of those in the front seat wear seat belts, but when there is a traffic accident, the passengers in the back seat get killed because they don’t wear seat belts,” he told the parliament yesterday.
The minister also said that it would take some three to six months after the law is approved by the King – it still needs to be rubber-stamped by the Senate – to adequately inform Cambodians about the new restrictions.
Until then, it won’t be enforced.
But while the law may be tough, how well it is upheld by traffic police will determine its effect on improving road safety, advocates say.
“In terms of the law, there is a lot of improvement, which is a good thing,” said independent road safety consultant Ear Chakriya, citing, in particular, mandatory helmet use, given that 70 per cent of all road deaths result from head injuries.
“But more important is how are they going to implement [it].”
While the existing law may have some “big gaps”, it does already have a number of strong provisions, but these are poorly enforced, he said.
What could help under the new law, Chakriya added, is that the chairman of the National Road Safety Committee will now come from the Ministry of Interior instead of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
The MOI is directly in charge of police and will hopefully be able to better influence the enforcement of traffic rules, he said.
The World Health Organization, which works with the government on road safety, praised the long-awaited law’s passing but also cautioned that its enforcement would be crucial.
“We know from years of work and from data collected independently that, while the law and public awareness are very necessary components, routine police enforcement is essential to ensure individual behaviour change,” WHO environmental engineer Steven Iddings said.