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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Last orders loom for drunk drivers

Last orders loom for drunk drivers

Cambodia's draft traffic law, now being reviewed by a parliamentary commission,

will introduce a drink-drive limit, make wearing seatbelts and helmets

mandatory, and increase fines for breaking the regulations.

Kim San, the

president of the National Assembly's commission of public works, transport,

industry and telecommunications, said it would likely be approved by the

commission next month.

It would then be sent to MPs for approval, which

should happen before the general election due in July 2003, said Ung Chun Hour,

director of the land transport department at the Ministry of Public Works and

Transport (MPWT).

"We were inspired by neighboring countries and ASEAN

members, and compared speed limits and alcohol concentration," Hour said. "The

1991 laws banned drivers from drunk driving, but did not state an acceptable

alcohol level."

Driving with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.5

grams per liter of blood will be prohibited, and drivers who have more than 0.8

grams alcohol concentration face possible imprisonment for up to one year and

fines ranging between 50,000 riel ($12.80) and 1 million riel ($256.40).

The penalties for drunk driving under the existing laws are far lower,

between 1,500 riel (38 cents) and 12,000 riel ($3.08). If an accident results in

death, then under the new law a drunk driver may be imprisoned for up to three

years and fined the maximum penalty of 6 million riel ($1,538).

The draft

law, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in February, is an attempt to

bring Cambodia's traffic in line with the rest of the region, and draws on

articles from UN road traffic conventions.

If the limits are enforced,

the law will likely lead to big changes in the driving behavior of local

residents and expatriates. The likelihood of police being able to enforce the

law, Hour admitted, would be hampered by the lack of modern equipment such as

speed cameras and breath-testing equipment.

The government, he said,

would try to buy blood alcohol level detectors by the time the law was

adopted.

"Our police get salaries that are not enough to feed their

families so naturally there is corruption," Hour said. "The young generation

grew up in the Pol Pot era with jungle law and were not educated about social

and traffic rules, so there are also a lot of law breakers on the

streets."

The draft proposes traffic violation fines ranging from 5,000

riel ($1.28) to 6 million riel ($1,538), much higher than the current level

between 500 riel (13 cents) and a maximum 40,000 riel ($10.25). It will also

require drivers of 49cc motorbikes and above to obtain licenses.

Another

innovation is a points system similar to those in many Western countries, with

demerit points given to drivers breaking the law and licenses being revoked when

12 points have been accrued.

A major traffic issue plaguing the

government has been the widespread use of right-hand-drive (RHD) vehicles,

despite the fact it has been illegal to import any since 1995. Driving any RHD

vehicles, which account for 30 percent of the country's car traffic, was

outlawed in January last year.

According to the government the worst

offenders are owners of those cars imported after 1999: no import tax has been

paid on these vehicles, they are not registered, and they do not have license

plates.

The secretary of the Joint Inter-Ministerial Committee for

Solving Issues of Right Steering Wheel Vehicles, Leng Thun Yuthea, admitted that

these cars were still being imported. He said 8,600 inspection stickers had been

placed on RHD vehicles since January.

"After we have counted the cars

the committee will propose what action the government should take," Yuthea said.

"The process has been slow but acceptable."

One government official said

enforcing any provisions against RHD vehicles could prove difficult, since

Cambodians who are able to afford the luxury four-wheel-drive models or Toyota

Camry sedans are generally influential.

"Those carrying out the

clandestine activities are backed by the army and many car owners are also

strong army people," he said. "The government is powerless to stop

them."

Another issue the draft law is meant to tackle is the high death

rate on the country's roads. Official statistics show that jumped 16 percent

last year with 459 dead and 4,184 injured, but even the government says the real

figure is at least twice that.

Cambodia's fellow ASEAN nations have

agreed on a road safety target of no more than 10 fatalities per 10,000

vehicles. Cambodia has the highest rate of 12.08 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles,

with Vietnam close behind on 10.77. Cambodia's road deaths are running at more

than twice Malaysia's figure, and almost seven times that of wealthy

Brunei.

"We are very worried about the number of deaths," said Hour at

the transport department. "Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that deaths caused by

road accidents are second only to those caused by HIV/AIDS."

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