When Khan Chan Sophal, a 30-year-old driver and translator, heard of a road accident last month outside the Ministry of Interior that resulted in the death of three children, he felt compelled to respond in a meaningful way.
The result was a campaign on his Facebook page inviting monks to rid areas with a high number of accidents – called “black spots” in traffic safety-speak – of their taint by praying for them. His friends also came out in support of the cause.
“I don’t force all the passengers to believe 100 per cent in the black spirits, but it is the Cambodian belief,” he said, adding that the overarching purpose of the campaign is to urge drivers to respect each other and obey the traffic law.
His grassroots organising has taken him to the site of a crash on Norodom Boulevard, where, on March 1, police say medical student Keam Piseth Marita drove her car into a crowd in an attempt to escape authorities chasing her from an earlier hit-and-run. The car careened into a mass of drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. Three children were killed and six others injured.
The campaign visited parts of National Road 4 to Sihanoukville, a dangerous stretch that saw seven people die on March 7 in a highly publicised accident; the Cambodia-Japanese friendship bridge in Kampong Cham province; and Phnom Penh’s flyover bridge into Takmao town.
Sophal says that so far, about 4,000 to 5,000 people have come out with him, and they’ve donated money for fresh water to give to the monks who come along.
“I did this only on the roads that have big and serious accidents, and I do not have a plan to do it somewhere else yet,” he said.
A “black spot” refers to a section of road that is 300 metres long and has at least three crashes with at least one person killed in a one-year period, according to Ear Chariya, road safety program manager with Handicap International.
According to a report from the department of Public Order in the Ministry of Interior, 540 people died in traffic accidents in the first three months of 2013, an increase of 10 deaths from the same period a year ago.
The main causes, in keeping with previous years, were speeding and drunk driving.