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Fighting the traffic tide

Teens volunteering for the Cambodian Red Cross do their part to calm the chaos that prevails on the streets of Phnom Penh

TEENAGERS stand in small groups on each corner of the Peth Chen intersection in Phnom Penh, lecturing drivers and passers-by.

Wearing dark blue trousers or skirts, light blue caps, and light blue shirts covered with red vests, some of the teenagers mill about, while others hold flags bearing the logo of the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC).

One of them, 19-year-old Net Vanthet, speaks through a megaphone, his words aimed at the passing motorists.

“We are youths from the CRC, and we would like to inform everyone on the road that you should wear helmets for your safety and never drive over the speed limit. For motorcycles, the speed limit is 30 kilometres per hour, and for cars it is 40 kilometres per hour.”

“Please never use drugs or drink alcohol,” he continued. “Please use headphones when speaking on your mobile phone. Respecting traffic signs will help save your life. The youths of the CRC wish you a safe trip.”

Net Vanthet has been doing traffic duty every Sunday morning since he became a CRC volunteer in 2007.

“I’m happy to spend free time doing social work because I believe it can help reduce road accidents and make travelling safer,” he said.

He said that when he started working as a volunteer, he immediately noticed that many people ignored traffic signs, stopped in the middle of crosswalks and even ran red lights right in front of the CRC youths.

“When people stopped beyond the pedestrian line we would ask them to back up a little, but they would yell at us and didn’t care what we said. Their words hurt our feelings, but we kept working,” Net Vanthet said.

Another volunteer, 14-year-old Prom Panha, said she started volunteering in late 2009 after she saw many traffic accidents near her house and school, and along the roads of the city.

“I always see traffic accidents in many places. I’m scared about that, so I decided to help the Cambodian Red Cross to reduce traffic accidents,” she said.

She said she has noticed that many drivers respect the Red Cross logo when they see it, so they’re more willing to follow her suggestions.

“Drivers habitually stop over the pedestrian line, especially motorcycles,” she said. “Sometimes a driver will stop in the crosswalk, and then when he sees me he will get embarrassed and move back.”

“Many people don’t care about the law, but they care what people think, and they will correct their mistakes when they see people are watching.”

The president of CRC’s safety traffic project, Kim Pagna, said the project has been run since 2005 in cooperation with 12 secondary and high schools in Phnom Penh, including Bak Touk, Boeng Trobak, Wat Koh, Antarak Tevy, Chbar Ampov, Chompou Van, Russey Koe and Toul Tompoung.

At present, there are 1551 students, 817 of whom are female, volunteering for the project.

“Our purpose is to help the government reduce the road traffic accidents in Cambodia,” he said, adding that he targets teenagers to be volunteers because many traffic accidents involve young people.

“To reduce road traffic accidents, we start with the youth first because they are the backbone of the country,” Mr Pagna said. “This project also gives them a chance to learn about traffic laws because we train them about the law before we send them out to the intersections.”

According to statistics released by Handicap International Belgium and Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, in 2005 there were 904 traffic fatalities in Cambodia. In 2009 the number rose to 1717.

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