Pha Lina spent more than $10,000 to buy a 12-seat van to transport customers who wish to rent his vehicle for trips to the provinces and resorts across the country. 

During the busiest seasons or on major holidays, his 2002 model car is frequently rented, sometimes multiple times a week, accommodating two to three customers per trip. During the rainy season, he receives about one booking per week. 

"Even though I can't become rich, this old car can help improve my life to some extent," he told The Post.

This may be why the Prime Minister Hun Manet disagreed with the Minister of Economy and Finance's request to limit the import of used cars.

Manet continued to express his stance on permitting the import of used cars due to the needs of the general public.

He wrote on his personal Facebook page: "Consideration of technical standards, safety and environmental standards for cars is an important task. But we do not yet need to implement measures to restrict the year of production for car import permits, to give people the opportunity and flexibility to buy affordable, imported cars.”

“What needs to be addressed is strengthening the existing mechanisms to thoroughly and effectively inspect vehicle technology," he added. 

According to Sun Chanthol, first vice-president of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), the country had about six million vehicles, including motorcycles, and about one million cars registered as of 2023. 

Chanthol made the remarks during a working meeting with Ambassador of Japan to Cambodia Atsushi Ueno on June 14, 2023.

He noted there are 21 vehicle technical inspection centres, with eight in Phnom Penh and 13 in the provinces, including many mobile testing facilities.  

Technical inspections aim to reduce traffic accidents by warning car owners to repair and maintain their vehicles, contributing to road maintenance by setting load weight and storage techniques and protecting the environment by limiting the amount of toxins in vehicle exhaust, stated a post on the ministry’s website. 

Ky Sereyvath, an economics researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said he did not think the country should restrict the import of cars older than ten years, as people's livelihoods are still limited, preventing them from being able to afford new cars.

"Even though these cars are a bit old, they can still help our people in some ways. Relying on new cars and EVs is still expensive, so people in some provinces cannot afford a car," he said.

Chanthol, former Minister of Public Works and Transport, stated previously in March 2023 that traditional vehicles remain subject to an import duty of up to 120 per cent.

He also noted the high import tariff is one of the reasons why sales of used cars over ten years old have dropped sharply.

Seng Nak, a used car retailer, mentioned that cars manufactured in 2002 have not seen an increase in imports since they are subject to the same tax as models from 2012.

Nak, 42, who resigned from a high-paying job to sell used cars due to the growing momentum of the market before Covid-19, said most sellers choose models produced in 2010, such as the 2010 Prius. 

He added that lower-end vehicles like the Highlander or Lexus 330 were no longer imported as sellers prefer to import expensive models.

“Selling used cars with existing licence plates in the country is not very profitable at the moment because they lose almost half their value after purchase. But those who want to buy a car with a licence plate can find them at a cheaper price,” Nak told The Post. 

Safety first

As a citizen, Lina, 38, supported the prime minister's decision to continue allowing the import of used cars, as people are not yet well off.

He said new and used cars offer the same benefits but noted people can afford a used car. He agreed that the technical inspection of vehicles is the most important thing.

Prum Vantha, director of the Road Traffic Safety Department and head of Promotion, Education and Training at the General Secretariat of the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC), said that technical inspections are carried out on all vehicles, regardless of the year of production. 

"For a new car, the [inspection] validity is four years; for a used car with a tariff paper that has not yet been used in Cambodia, the validity of the check is two years, and for a truck, it is one year,” he told The Post.  

Vantha acknowledged that there are still some old cars that have not been inspected, especially some ice and luggage trucks. 

He said evading the check is within the jurisdiction of the police, who advise or punish offenders according to the law.

"The highest risk factor is not the car itself, but the character of the driver (who may drive too fast or is intoxicated) and the vehicle's technical condition, which can mitigate damages in an accident," Lina added.

Sam Vichhika, spokesperson for the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, has been involved in the investigation of a series of traffic accidents in the past, most of which were caused by high-risk alcohol consumption. 

He said, most importantly, people have to understand that those who drive under the influence of alcohol must be punished according to the road traffic law. 

Min Manvy, secretary of state at the transport ministry and secretary-general of the NRSC, said that causes of accidents include speeding, not respecting right-of-way, driving on the wrong side of the street, incorrect U-turns, driving under the influence of alcohol and drowsiness. 

“The primary factors contributing to traffic accident fatalities are behavioural, specifically the "fatal four": use of alcohol and drugs, speeding, ignoring traffic rules and using a phone while driving,” according to the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) report, ‘Road Traffic Accidents in Cambodia’.

According to the report, these behaviours increase the likelihood of fatal accidents by three to three and a half times. Other factors like road quality, weather and time of day are significant but less impactful compared to the aforementioned "fatal four".

Cambodia’s EV trend

In a move to modernise the country’s transportation landscape and promote sustainability, the government has considerably reduced the import tax on electric vehicles (EVs) by approximately 50 per cent as of early 2023. 

The initiative aims to encourage the adoption of EVs over traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, which remain subject to import duties in excess of the vehicle's value. 

The reduction in tax is part of a broader strategy to reduce pollution and promote environmentally friendly practices across the nation. 

In January 2023, 132 EVs were registered in Cambodia, bringing the total to 794, comprising 408 cars, 355 tricycles and 31 motorcycles. 

This is up from the 662 at the end of 2022 and significanly higher than the 63 registered by the end of 2021, showing a nearly 95 per cent increase, according to the ministry.

Sereyvath said that he supported the reduction of taxes on new cars and EVs, particularly EVs, but observed that despite the government’s reduction, EV sellers still maintain high prices to maximise profits. 

He highlighted that the use of EVs is still limited, being both expensive and difficult for owners to locate places for long-term charging.

However, Sereyvath said that the government must restrict the use of old vehicles by implementing technical and spot checks on certain types, such as ice trucks and others that are technically unsound, ensuring they are properly tuned.

“Incorrectly modified cars and cut cars are not allowed in traffic. That is the main basis for implementation at this stage,” he told The Post.

Sustainable environment 

As part of environmental considerations, the finance ministry’s plans were to ban the import of cars older than 10 years before being rejected by the prime minister.

Cambodia is advancing its strategy for sustainable mobility by promoting EVs through initiatives such as reducing import duties and developing EV infrastructure. 

The government's Long-Term Strategy for Carbon Neutrality (LTS4CN) aims to electrify a significant portion of the country’s vehicles by 2050, with targets for 40 per cent of cars and urban buses and 70 per cent of motorcycles, according to the World Bank.

These efforts, including encouraging investments in EV assembly plants and establishing charging stations, are part of Cambodia's broader goal to transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

Khvay Atiya, spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, said that technically, the transport sector is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, along with agriculture, energy production, land use and forestry, plastic waste management, open dumping and industrial production processes.

However, he noted that as the country’s economy grows, the number of vehicles serving the sector has also increased. He encouraged citizens to use EVs that emit fewer GHGs.

"The government has prioritised the reduction of [GHGs] from all sources, including the transport sector, in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and long-term development plans for carbon neutrality,” he told The Post.

He added that the government has been implementing GHG reduction plans through the development of urban expressways to avoid traffic congestion and promote the use of city buses and EVs.

"People should join the government in implementing policies by using simple methods such as bus services and carpooling," Atiya said. 

He urged participation in the implementation of clean, green and sustainable environmental strategies. 

He said the ministry’s efforts include the “Today I will not use plastic” campaign, the “Cambodia Sa'at (beautiful). Khmer Can Do” initiative, which promotes sanitation awareness and garbage collection, and the “Green Sprouts” campaign to strengthen, protect and conserve natural resources.

Atiya encouraged planting at least one tree per year to increase green cover in the country to 60 per cent and make it carbon-neutral by 2050.

He added that improving the livelihoods of local communities by providing new options to people in protected areas is crucial to reducing pressure on forests.