Driving behaviour: The hidden killer

The body of a motorist is covered by a mat after a car accident caused by speeding on National Road 8A.
The body of a motorist is covered by a mat after a car accident caused by speeding on National Road 8A. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Driving behaviour: The hidden killer

There are more traffic accident warnings in Cambodia now than at any point in the last few decades, yet the number of casualties from such accidents just keeps increasing from one year to the next.

Road Crash and Victim Information System (RCVIS) figures show that 1,905 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2011. The number only decreased slightly the next year, with 1,894 people killed in 2012.

What factors contribute to this high accident rate? Has the general public been made aware of the dangers?

Kan Borin, a student from Pursat province, was involved in a traffic accident in August. “While I was alone riding on the side of the street, a car sped up in an attempt to overtake the car driving beside me and hit me from behind.”

Twenty-five-year-old law school graduate Vang Sreymao likes driving at night with friends, but he knows the risks. “When I travel at nighttime, I am always worried about having an accident because people these days don’t know how to drive. They sometimes hit us even if we are driving sensibly. Also, there are many drunk drivers at night.”

Based on the two youths’ comments and what we know society is really like, it is clear that the attitude of drivers is a big contributing factor to traffic accidents, and that it has been paid little to no attention.

Hak Sreynith, a 20-year-old student from Kompong Thom province, was left with a head injury after being in an accident, which she admits was her fault. “I had the accident because I was careless,” she says. “I was driving too fast in heavy rain.”

Hun Sen Kompong Trolarg High School ethics teacher Nak Somnang says: “I think Cambodian people today have lost so much of their morality and lack mutual understanding when commuting. The law is still loose, and their knowledge of traffic rules as well as their courtesy while driving are limited.”

Nop Vannak is a 49-year-old public road cleaner who works for Cintri from 4am to 9am and then from noon to 3pm. “Sometimes motorists drive fast without watching out,” she says. “Sometimes they see us but because we are road cleaners they think they don’t have to watch out. Rather it seems like they even want to hit us.”

Some have observed that many traffic accidents and related problems are caused by a lack of mutual understanding among road users, especially those in Phnom Penh city.

“In my opinion, what causes traffic accidents and congestion is reckless and inconsiderate overtaking,” tuk-tuk driver Meng Vuthy, 33, says. “Furthermore, car drivers will try to go first most of the time without thinking about anyone else.”

H.E. Him Yarn, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Public Order, was asked about the traffic chaos. “The numbers of vehicles and people are continuing to grow, so all road users must give as much mutual understanding and respect to each other as possible. Some citizens respect the traffic rules yet still behave selfishly when on the road.”

Some motorists, however, neither understand nor try to learn traffic laws – and this can lead to traffic accidents and other problems.

“Most of our citizens respect the law, but a small bunch of people don’t. These people also don’t respect the traffic police. For instance, some people will obey the law when there are police; when there are not any, however, they commit traffic violations,” Yarn says.

Reports of traffic accidents note a lot of information, including the cause of the incident. Yarn explained what the statistics show. “Compared to the first half of last year, this year has only seen one fewer death. On average, five people die and 15 are injured every day. Of these cases, 10 per cent are because of people going through red lights or speeding, 12 per cent are because of drink driving and nine per cent are because of illegal turns or overtaking. ”

This plainly shows that the factors that cause accidents are behaviour and a lack of understanding. If everybody stuck to good habits and was courteous when commuting then the rate of traffic accidents would surely be reduced.