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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - They're serious... sidesaddle only please

They're serious... sidesaddle only please

P ASSENGERS on motorcycles will have to sit side-saddle or face police fines under a new Phnom Penh Municipality regulation designed to reduce dangerous driving, robberies and grenade throwing.

Authorities say that by making passengers sit side-saddle - therefore reducing their balance - they will be less able to hold guns and throw grenades.

It would also mean that motorcycle drivers, who will be permitted to continue to straddle their machines, will be less likely to drive fast and dangerously if they know their side-saddle passengers could fall off.

The number of people who can ride a motorcycle will also be limited to two - preventing the widespread practice of entire families riding together - by the regulation.

The edict, the brainchild of Phnom Penh governor Chhim Seak Leng, was passed by the Phnom Penh Municipality on Dec 14 to come into effect in 1995.

It has been the subject of mirth and criticism in the Khmer press - and from some of the police who will have to enforce it.

"Only if robbers fire a B40 rocket launcher will they fall off a motorcycle," said a laughing policeman in central Phnom Penh.

Another thought the regulation would do little to reduce dangerous driving, saying: "If the robbers dare to rob, why won't they dare to sit astride and drive fast?"

Both policemen were less than happy with the prospect of having to enforce the new rules.

"Just to enforce simple traffic laws is already difficult," one said.

He expressed concern the regulation would prompt more use of guns - by armed people unhappy at being ordered to sit side-saddle.

Motorcycle passengers spoken to by the Post were also unhappy.

While most were concerned about the prospect of falling off motorbikes - one suggested he could glue himself to the seat - some had other worries.

"They want to make fun of us by making us sit like women or hermaphrodites," said Tep Sok, a Phnom Penh University literature student.

Australian Matthew Rendall said foreigners, who the regulation also applies to, would have difficulty sitting side-saddle when sitting on the back of motorcycles.

"Every time they turn a corner they will fall off. It will be a big medical burden. It is illegal to sit that way in my country."

He suggested a side-saddle training school could be started for foreigners.

Phnom Penh Municipality, however, says the criticism is unfair.

"We don't want to create a strange thing but this is only for social order in Phnom Penh," said Mann Chhoeun, Chief of Cabinet for the municipality.

"And it looks traditionally good for people to sit this way."

He said robbery and violence would not be eliminated, but it would make it harder for gunmen to shoot guns or toss grenades if riding side-saddle.

Restricting the number of people on motorcycles to two would also help to prevent road injuries.

Major Kang Sovann, education chief of Phnom Penh's Traffic Police department, said the regulation should reduce road accidents.

"If they sit side-saddle, people cannot drive fast, zigzag or do any inappropriate things," he said. "We can maintain the traffic order based on the use of speed."

He agreed riding side-saddle could affect passengers' balance but said they would be safe if motorcycles were not driven at illegal speeds (the law restricts 90cc motorcycles to between 25 and 30kph).

The municipality's order says will be controlled through "strict fining measures against those who do not abide by this direction". The fines are likely to be in line with others for traffic offenses, usually about 2000 riels.

Maj Sovann said a similar regulation had been introduced in 1972, after problems with people throwing bombs from motorcycles

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