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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Traffic laws pave the way for public safety

Traffic laws pave the way for public safety

The government's comprehensive new traffic laws came into force four months ago,

but the slew of legislation has not helped the "Protect your life, drive safely"

message hit home.

The number of traffic fatalities has doubled over the last five years, from 3.7 per

100,000 people in 2001, to 9.2 per 100,000 people in 2006, according to the 2006

annual report from the Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System (RTAVIS).

Traffic fatalities are now the second largest cause of death in Cambodia after HIV.

In 2006, 1,292 people were killed on the Kingdom's roads.

"The number of accidents hasn't declined," said Meas Chandy, Road Safety

Project Manager of Handicap International Belgium (HIB). "More than four people

have died everyday so far in 2007."

In order to improve this dire road-safety record, the Ministry of Public Works and

Transport, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Health and the National Road

Safety Committee (NRSC) jointly approved a new Law on Land Traffic in 2006. It has

been in force for four months, but it appears few are paying any attention.

"The new traffic law clearly states that all drivers should have driving licenses,"

said Keo Savin, Director of Land Transport Department, Ministry of Public Works and

Transport. "Cambodia now has around 500,000 registered vehicles but only 2,000

drivers have driving licenses."

The new law requires "drivers of motorcycles, tricycles and motorcycles with

trailers [to] wear safety helmets," in recognition of the fact that 83 percent

of traffic accidents last year involved motorbikes, and the most common injuries

were to the head.

"I don't know there's a new law on traffic and I have no idea what it is about,"

said Mark Thirak, a motorcycle taxi driver. "I just know the [traffic] police

may charge those [drivers] who are under 18 years old."

To ensure efficient implementation of the new law by September, the government is

promoting it in a step-by-step way.

"First, we have introduced the new law to the senior police in all 24 provinces,"

said Savin. "The second step will be to introduce the new law to drivers in

the whole country." But everyone agrees that education and legislation must

go hand in hand.

HIB's Chandy, who regularly conducts tests on road safety at school-sponsored events,

said most young people in Cambodia do not even have basic knowledge on how to protect

themselves on roads, although almost half of Cambodia's drivers are between 15 and

24 years of age.

"The test includes simple questions such as the meaning of traffic signs or

what the speed limit is," he said. "Less than 20 percent of the students

can score a pass."

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport has proposed a "National Road Safety

Week" from April 1 to 7 every year. The proposal received Prime Ministerial

approval earlier this year, and it will become an official annual event from April

2008.

Moreover, a major campaign is currently seeking to raise public awareness of road

safety through the use of TV and radio spots, posters, leaflets and billboards.

Celebrities are also being used to spread the message: On 8 December 2006, His Majesty

King Norodom Sihamoni handed out helmets to children as part of HIB's "Helmet

Distribution Ceremony" at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh.

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