Road safety education for the young population is the way to go in Cambodia, says Jean Todt, the President of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), motor sports’ world governing body.
The former principal of the Ferrari team and a reputed rally co-driver in his youth, who assumed charge as the FIA chief in October 2009 from colourful but controversial Max Mosley, was in Phnom Penh yesterday as part of the United Nations inspired world-wide Decade for Road Safety Campaign.
During his one-day visit, the 65-year-old Frenchman met the Minister of Transport and several high ranking police officers besides driving out to the outskirts to inspect Kambol F1, the only go-kart racetrack in the city. FIA Travel Liaison Manager Jean Claude Lefebvre and the president of the newly formed Automobile Association of Cambodia (AAC) Bora Moeu accompanied Todt.
“I was a bit worried from what I saw. Lots of bicycles, motorbikes on roads – more than two riding them. Goods piled up and very poor lane discipline, no safety belts on cars. A lot needs to be done for road safety,” Todt told the Post in an exclusive chat at the FCC yesterday before his departure to Thailand.
“I went to a school and many eight to 10-year-old kids didn’t know what a helmet was and they had no idea how to safely cross roads.
“I am happy that Cambodia has a new Automobile Association. I welcome them to the FIA community and I have suggested the AAC can play a very important role in promoting road safety measures along with other government agencies,” he added.
Todt noted that it was “way too early” for Cambodia to consider hosting major motor sports events.
“Firstly, the AAC should know well enough the people they are working with and concentrate on enrolling more and more members and improve services for them and I feel the safest and best way to go about it is go-karting with young drivers,” said the FIA president.
Holding out assurances on technical and logistical help from the FIA for the new born association, Todt said as a community member, Cambodia was entitled to several benefits that every member enjoyed, including access to developmental funds.
The FIA chief also made it clear that he would vigorously pursue his goal of introducing new technology that would enhance safety, ensure energy recovery and reduce the sport’s impact on environment.
“As for the change on engine rules, what I have in mind is a shift to 1.6 [litre] turbo-powered engines for the future,” he said in reference to the raging debate over the 2.4-litre standard. “As you are aware people are reluctant to change.”
When questioned over reports in a section of the media which quoted him as saying that he would not stay in office beyond one term, he quipped: “It is my personal choice whether I want to be a one-term president and the media has no say in it. I have never said that and I don’t know what was said in the media.”
Meanwhile, AAC President Bora Moeu told the Post yesterday that members of the association, which was formed in March, were thrilled with Todt’s visit.
“It is of great significance to us. The AAC will definitely work towards a safer roads initiative and gradually get into motor sports action,” he said.
Interestingly, Todt’s wife Michelle Yeoh, the instantly recognizable film actress and former Miss Malaysia, visited Cambodia a few months ago in her role as the Global Ambassador for Make Roads Safer Campaign undertaken by the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, a UK-based charity created in 2001 with a US$300 million donation from the sale of Formula One commercial rights.