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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Crash deaths and injuries worsen

Crash deaths and injuries worsen

Sometime today, a Cambodian male between 30-40 years of age riding a motorbike in

Phnom Penh's central core will collide with another motorcycle, suffer severe head

injuries, and die.

Patching up the bloody, battered results of some of Phnom Penh's growing traffic chaos, medics face a daunting time ahead.

That's the profile of the most frequent fatality of traffic accidents in Phnom Penh

compiled by the Japan International Co-operation Agency blended with a Post survey

of city crematoriums that report an average of one traffic fatality per day every

day of the year.

The approximately 365 annual traffic deaths in Phnom Penh dwarf the 160 deaths registered

nationwide in year 2000 by the Cambodia Mine Incident Database Project, a matter

not overlooked by NGOs that have traditionally concentrated their resources on reducing

mine incidents and assisting their victims.

"It's a fact that mine incidents are decreasing while disabilities from traffic

accidents are increasing," said Isabel Plumat, Country Director for Handicap

International (HI). "This is a real problem that will become more and more of

a problem in the future."

Ouk Sisovann, Executive Director of the Disability Action Center (DAC), an umbrella

group of 50 organizations that assists Cambodia's disabled, says that DAC has likewise

noted "an increasing trend in traffic accident-related disabilities since 1998."

In response, DAC and Handicap International are now shifting the focus of their services

from addressing the needs of land mine victims to the victims of traffic accidents.

Impeding an accurate independent assessment of the scope and severity of traffic

accidents in Phnom Penh is a dearth of reliable data from responsible government


According to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport , only 661 traffic deaths

occurred nationwide from 1994 -1999.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police say a total of 499 accidents - 90% of them involving

motorcycles - occurred on the streets of just Phnom Penh in 2000. Those numbers are

in turn a fraction of those documented by the Red Cross's SAMU emergency ambulance

service, which responded to 2,500 accidents in the same period.

"Remember that SAMU only has four ambulances so that there are more [accidents

occurring] out there," said HI's Eric Debert, who is leading HI's traffic injury

program. What even the most dubious of official traffic accident statistics reflect

is the growing danger of Phnom Penh's roads.

Municipal Police report that between 1997-1999 accident fatalities increased by an

alarming 58%.

"Drunk driving and reckless driving are the causes of the vast majority of the

accidents we see," SAMU Logistics Officer Pen Siny said of the 3,008 accident

victims his ambulance teams carted back to Calmette in 2000.

As for the approximately 15 people that SAMU teams find dead on the scene each month

"...we leave them for their families to take away," he added.

Patching up the bloody, battered results of some of Phnom Penh's growing traffic chaos, medics face a daunting time ahead.

Those who survive traffic accidents have a high likelihood of permanent mental or

physical disability.

SAMU statistics indicate that 79% of Phnom Penh traffic accident victims are left

with "serious injuries that could possibly lead to disability."

The near-universal failure of motorcycle riders to wear helmets leaves a further

57.8% of accident victims with serious head injuries.

Sisovann says physical recovery of local traffic accident victims is hampered by

the limitations of Cambodia's resource-starved medical system

"Accident victims require very good surgical, post-operative and rehabilitation

care which is not widely available in Cambodia," Sisovann said, noting that

the Kingdom's only spinal column rehabilitation facility is in Battambang.

Those facilities that do offer rehabilitation services are recording steep increases

in the numbers of traffic accident victims.

At the Rehabilitation Clinic of the Cambodian School for Prosthetics and Orthotics

(CSPO) in Phnom Penh, the number of traffic accident victims who received therapy

or prostheses due to amputations rose from two in 1995 to 55 in 2000.

Mike Goodge, an HI road safety consultant, warns that the repair and resurfacing

of roads in Phnom Penh will only increase the number of deaths and severity of injuries

caused by traffic accidents.

"New roads mean higher speeds with many more accidents and much more severe

injuries," Goodge said.

"A child hit by a car traveling at 20 kph has a 95% chance of living while a

child hit by a car traveling at 40 kph has a 95% chance of dying."

Goodge and HI are mapping out a road safety education program and motorcycle helmet

promotion program as means of stemming the pain and suffering caused by traffic accidents.

The road safety education program will be focused on both future drivers as well

as the estimated 60% of car drivers on the roads of Phnom Penh that the MPWT says

lack licenses and have never undergone any driver education

According to MPWT Deputy Director General Ung Chun Hour, the government has acknowledged

the need to improve the skills of the Cambodians behind the wheel with a new traffic

law to be submitted this month to the Council of Ministers.

A traumatised accident victim is treated for a head injury.

The draft law is designed to meet ASEAN standards of driver safety and decrees mandatory

use of motorcycle helmets, seat belts and stiff fines for drunk driving.

Meanwhile, DAC Advisor Helen Pitt says service providers for the disabled are preparing

to retool their programs to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of traffic accident

victims expected over the coming decade.

"The trends are indicating that caring for traffic accident victims is going

to be a major service need in Cambodia," Pitt said.

"We need to plan medical and rehabilitation services to cope with this new problem."



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