Say Muny describes himself as a careful driver, but despite his best intentions, he was involved in a fatal accident.

Muny recalled the accident saying that on August 10, he was driving his parents from Phnom Penh to Kampot on National road 3 in his white Land Cruiser. As a cautious driver, he was travelling at around 40kmh and keeping well to the right side of the road. It had just begun to lightly rain when he arrived at Boeung Tarong village, Prey Khmum commune, Teuk Chhou district, Kampot province.

As he was passing through the village, an oncoming dump truck swerved into his lane at high speed and hit his car. The accident killed his mother who was sitting in the back seat, left his father with a broken arm and spine, and shattered Muny’s arm, breaking it in three places.

As terrified onlookers called an ambulance, the driver of the truck fled the scene.

“I could not avoid the accident because it happened so suddenly. Based on my recollection, the truck did not hit my car because of the wet road – it was almost like he swerved into my lane intentionally. I have asked the authorities to track down the driver so that I can resolve the situation,” said Muny.

He still remembers the shock he felt when he turned to check on his parents and realised they were both unconscious.

When the Teuk Chhou district police arrived, he filed a lawsuit to seek legal assistance.

Sao Maly, deputy police in charge of public order of the district, told The Post that the car and the truck had arrived at a place on the road where the Kampot provincial public works department had installed signs warning that drainage work was being undertaken on the road. The dump truck was speeding and its brakes did not work, so it swerved into the right lane and collided with the Land Cruiser.

“Witnesses told me that the dump truck rolled two or three times at high speed before it stopped – while the Land Cruiser was thrown behind it. The elderly woman who died in the car did not appear injured. She was sitting in the back seat, while the impact was a head-on. We don’t know if she was wearing a seatbelt or if she was hit by another object which passed through the vehicle,” he added.

He said the driver fled the scene. The owner of the vehicle had rented the truck out, but was unable to say who the driver was. The owner’s representative had already met with him three times after accident, and he was waiting for the victims to come forward and settle the incident at the Teuk Chhou district police headquarters.

Theories on the rising toll

Yong Kim Eng, president of the NGO People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said that traffic accidents have not decreased, in part because some of the larger truck companies appear to be above the law, and partially because some drivers flaunt the traffic laws.

Traffic accidents caused serious consequences and tragedy for the victims and their families, as well as wider society, he added.

He said he had determined four major factors behind accidents.

First, he believed that some drivers – most notably those driving for large companies – believed that they had powerful connections which would shield them from consequences.

The second factor was driving under the influence of alcohol, which was still a serious issue. The third concern was a lack of strict law enforcement. He said that it had become soft, and this encouraged some people to disregard the law.

Finally, he said there were still people in charge of vehicles that did not hold drivers’ licenses and others who had them, but had not earned them legitimately.

Kim Eng said it was possible that this issue could be related to corruption at some point, as some people did not appear to know how to read traffic signs or road conditions but still obtained licenses.

“If we want to improve the Kingdom’s traffic accident statistics, we should focus on these four points – and then move on to solve other related problems. If drivers learn how to drive correctly and understand the traffic laws, accidents will fall. The main issue is that some people do not know how to drive correctly, but they drive anyway,” he said.

He suggested that another strategy that was important was the building of trust in the traffic police. They should be applying the law equally and clearly in every case – when they are involved in an incident, it should be clear that wrong is wrong and right is right.

Min Manavy, secretary of state of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and secretary-general of the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC), said in the first six months of 2022, traffic fatalities has increased by 33 per cent when compare to the same period last year. Injuries had risen by 25 per cent.

Message from the frontlines

Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun, said his province had one of the highest rates of accidents in the Kingdom.

He said that it was determined that speeding, driving under the influence, poor vehicle handling and a lack of understanding of traffic laws were the major contributing factors.

He requested that the NRSC create short instructional videos as a guide to the new expressway will enter service soon.

“In Sihanoukville, we have both good and bad roads; in fact when National Road No 3 was damaged it was difficult to travel quickly on, so at the beginning of 2021 there were no fatalities. Now that the road is repaired, people are travelling in much greater numbers – and at much greater speeds,” he said.

“I am concerned that without instructions, people may use the new expressway recklessly. This could lead to more accidents, and potential loss of life,” he added, referring to the soon to be open Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng who is also the chairman of the NRSC, said that on average, there were nine traffic accidents daily, killing five people and injuring ten. Most of them took place in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Sihanoukville provinces.

He said that the committee considered the road toll a major challenge.

“I believe a lot of the accidents are caused by human factors – both motorcyclists and drivers don’t respect the law – especially if they are drinking. I think we should be concentrating our efforts on enforcing the law. Naturally, we should be educating the public as much as possible, but my personal view is that those who are directly involved must enforce discipline and the law very strictly,” he said.

“I agree with the driver’s license exam being necessary, but that is a matter for the transport ministry. Of course, I understand that if the exam process is not transparent, it does not make sense, so I will be paying attention to see that the quality of the exam improves,” he added.