You don't have to be a genius to know that there are some terrible drivers on the roads in Cambodia, and while driving schools don’t deserve all of the blame, Kim Samath and Ngo Menghourng are certain that they aren’t helping the situation.
Traffic accidents are often though of as an unavoidable occurrence that, for people who aren’t involved, slow down our commute and makes us late for our next appointment. But they are much more than an inconvenience.
On average, 4.7 people die in accidents each day in Cambodia, according to a report by the Cambodian government and Handicap International Belgium, an NGO in Phnom Penh. In order to reduce traffic accidents, the Cambodia government has been enforcing traffic laws more rigorously for the past two years. Drivers are required by law to own driving license, for example, but while this law could be effective, the corruption and weak management of driving schools and places that award driver’s licences means that simply being a certified driver in the Kingdom has done little to cut down on danger on the road.
So Pov, 21, a second-year student at Royal University of Phnom Penh, spent US$110 dollars to buy a car driver’s license from a private driving school in Phnom Penh. She said that she decided to forgo formal lessons an instead her father taught he to drive. She did not take a course in traffic laws or pass a driving exam, but because she was willing to pay enough money, she obtained a license anyhow.
"I do not know the traffic laws clearly", she said, “But I’m not the only one, my friends also used bribe money to get their driving license." She explained that she didn’t have enough time to go to driving school and it can be difficult to find a place to study.
There are plenty of reasons why people pay for their license rather than go through the proper procedure. 19-year-old Ung Lina, a 19-year-old student at Limkokwing University, said that she has spent extra money on top of the standard fee to get her driving license.
"I didn’t trust my ability and I was afraid that the school would fail me if I did not pay a bribe before the driving exam," she said. "I do not know the traffic signs clearly and also how to drive a car professionally, even though I took the course and got a driving license."
San Sopheak, 31, an English teacher at New York International School, said that he learned traffic laws at home from a textbook. As a teacher himself, he said that he found the level of observation and guidance in his private school experience to be severely lacking. "I was not satisfied because there are not enough councillors or monitors during the driving exam,” he said, adding that, “I never even got my exam results. How can I correct my mistakes if I do not know what they were?"
Sambath Dany, a receptionist at the 23 October Driving School in Phnom Penh, said that she is not aware of corruption or bribery being used to get driving license at the school. "There is no copying and cheating during the exam because there are many cameras in exam rooms." She added that her school is now offering traffic laws free to public from Monday to Friday to raise their awareness and help people avoid accidents.
Although there is a growing number of private driving schools, there are only 51 certified driving instructors, and many people feel that these schools do not fulfil their obligation to ensure that licensed drivers are capable to driving safely.
Tauch Chankosal, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said that his ministry tries their best to educate private driving schools about the standards of quality and need to eliminate corruption. "Everyone wants to pass the exam,” he said. “If some drivers bribe the instructor and they can get license, the others will follow this example. The quality of the driver’s training depends on the school’s ethics in both teaching and in administering the exam.”
Sok Samoeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that there is a corrupt activity in both public and private organisation. "We should eliminate the corruption in private driving school and in the fining activity along the road. Whenever the traffic police fine people for money only, people still do not learn to obey the traffic laws," he said. “The traffic police should take strict action against people who break traffic laws so that they people will stop relying on bribed for their license and take the time to get to know the traffic laws."
Phim Sokhorm, who works as traffic policeman, said that people do not respect the traffic laws partly due to a weak understanding of what they are. He continued that people who buy a license might be able to get form place to place, but they don’t know the meaning of the signs and lights, so perhaps they don’t violate the law intentionally. "I not only fine them but also educate them on traffic laws," he said about how he deals with offenders.