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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hopes rest on new law to reduce carnage on roads

Hopes rest on new law to reduce carnage on roads

Weak law enforcement, ignorance of traffic rules, and more traffic driving faster on newly paved roads are all being blamed for a severe increase in traffic accidents in the past few years.

But government officials hope a new traffic law to go to the National Assembly this year will improve driving behavior and reduce the carnage.

Accident figures from the General Department of Transport showed 1,735 traffic accidents reported in the first five months of 2006. About 2,600 people were injured and 454 were killed.

Jean Van Wetter, operation coordinator of Handicap International Belgium (HI), said the figures were probably underestimated.

"Not every case has been recorded. Maybe no police were at the accident site or they didn't put it on record," Van Wetter said.

He cited the Cambodia Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System (RTAVIS), which estimated that there were actually around 10,500 road casualties from January to May this year.

The rise in traffic accidents has outpaced the increase in road traffic and population. Over the past five years, the number of accidents increased by 50 percent and road deaths doubled; Cambodia's population increased by 12 percent, according to RTAVIS.

"Over 90 percent [of accidents] are caused by human error," Van Wetter said. "People in Cambodia need to learn how to drive."

High speed and alcohol or drug abuse are the two major causes, accounting for 60 percent of all traffic accidents.

"There is no law enforcement on speed control," said Van Wetter. "Speed control is important, but most important is to make sure people know the traffic law."

Van Wetter expressed concern about drunken driving, which is the second major cause of traffic accidents. He said Cambodians don't take drunk-driving seriously.

"Even in advertisements, it shows young men drinking alcohol on motorbikes," he said

Head injuries are the most common injuries in traffic accidents because so few people wear helmets. RTAVIS figures showed that 39 percent of the accident victims so far in 2006 had suffered from cranial trauma, compared with the world average of 28 percent.

The average cost of medical treatment for an accident is $99.

Statistics from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MWPT) showed that 60 percent of traffic accidents involved motorbikes - 1,858 of them in the first five months of 2006.

A list of registered vehicles in Phnom Penh showed that official motorcycle ownership increased 140 percent between 2004 and 2005. The total number of vehicles registered rose from 28,609 to 56,306.

Only riders of motorbikes 100cc or higher are required to have driving licenses. There is no age limit or license requirement for motorcycles with engines smaller than 100cc.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) will present new land traffic legislation to the National Assembly by the end of this year.

The new law will introduce elements that are intended to improve road safety, including compulsory helmets for all two-and three-wheeled vehicles, driving licenses for operating motorbikes larger than 49cc, and blood alcohol limits.

"I think the traffic accidents will be reduced," said Keo Savin, deputy director of the Land Transport Department at the MPWT.

Savin said his ministry is going to put more effort on improving road surfaces.

But Van Wetter is worried that improvements to roads may trigger more traffic accidents. RTAVIS showed nearly 60 percent of accidents occurred on paved roads.

"The ministry says there are bad traffic conditions because of the roads, but it is the opposite. People pay more attention when driving bad roads, not good roads," Van Wetter said. "The point is, we have to make people drive well."

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