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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Observer sceptical of road accident figures

Police assist rowers on the Tonle Sap River earlier this week during the Water Festival after their boat sunk.
Police assist rowers on the Tonle Sap River earlier this week during the Water Festival after their boat sunk. Eliah Lillis

Observer sceptical of road accident figures

The Interior Ministry’s Department of Traffic and Public Order has publicised a drastic drop in the number of road accidents and fatalities compared to last year’s Water Festival holiday period, a figure that drew scepticism from road safety experts.

As of 3pm yesterday, 14 people had reportedly died on the roads during the three-day festival, compared to 25 people last year, and 33 people were injured – a drop of nearly half compared to 2015.

But director of the Institute for Road Safety Ear Chariya cast doubt on those figures, noting that since the boat race festivities were cancelled in 2015, one would logically expect more traffic on the roads this year and a corresponding uptick in accidents.

“That fact should mean that traffic accidents are worse than last year . . . if it is less when comparing it to last year, it means we have a lot of concern about their report,” he said, suggesting that police may have wanted to “look good”.

However, Traffic and Public Order Department director Run Rothvesna said the road toll decline could be attributed to more motorists understanding the Traffic Law, and to Water Festival arrangements being better organised than in previous years.

Separately, the national military police posted on Facebook that during the first two days of the festival, authorities helped 5,731 people in need of medical assistance, mostly for dehydration and exhaustion.

Of those, 23 people were hospitalised. Police also made 10 arrests over the course of the two-day period.

The national military police additionally noted that they had responded to four boats sinking during the festivities.

Yesterday, a drum-beater seated in a judging boat had to be quickly rescued after his boat capsized into the Tonle Sap just after 5pm.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said that the “Skor Chey boat” – where a single man sits and beats a drum to signal to racers they have reached the finish line – succumbed to the waves generated by a passing racing boat.

Chantharith said a police boat responded immediately to scoop the man from the water, adding that he was unharmed.

One boat crash on Friday, however, claimed two lives the day before the festival’s official start when a cruise ship operated by an Australian company collided with a racing boat, sinking it.

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