Ministry proposes sixfold increase in penalty for drivers who lack headgear
Much of the fining will just give traffic police the chance to extort much money....
THE Interior Ministry has presented a proposal for a sixfold raise in the fine handed out to motorbike drivers caught riding without helmets, officials said, part of a broader effort to increase compliance with a regulation that has so far failed to reduce traffic fatalities.
In January 2009, an amendment to the Land Traffic Law introduced a fine of 3,000 riels (about US$0.75) for helmetless motorbike drivers, a move that was hailed at the time by road safety activists.
However, Him Yan, director of the Department of Public Order at the Interior Ministry, said Tuesday that the fine needed to be raised.
“The fine has been set too low, which means drivers have not stopped their bad habits. They seem to look down on the traffic law,” he said.
The ministry first floated the idea of raising the fine to 21,000 riels (about $5) during an inter-ministerial meeting held in late February, Him Yan said, adding that officials also discussed the prospect of expanding the helmet regulation so that it would apply to passengers.
Preap Chanvibol, director of the Land Transport Department at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said recommendations from last month’s meeting would be finalised at a meeting to be held later this month, adding that they would then be reviewed by legal experts at the Council of Ministers before being sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the National Assembly.
Along with drunken driving and speeding, failure to wear a helmet is considered one of the primary factors contributing to traffic fatalities. Despite the new regulation and a series of enforcement campaigns, however, recorded traffic fatalities last year increased to 1,654, up from 1,572 in 2008.
Experts have argued that patchy enforcement, fuelled by the low presence of traffic police, has led to a low level of compliance with the law.
Him Yan said Tuesday that he believe 90 percent of motorbike drivers wear helmets during the day, but that only 50 percent do so at night.
The most recent survey conducted by the Road Crash and Victim Information System, which is run by the NGO Handicap International Belgium, found that 59 percent of drivers on stretches of National Roads 1, 4 and 5 were wearing helmets in January, along with 11 percent of passengers.
Ryan Duly, an adviser at the Global Road Safety Partnership who works closely with HIB, said road safety activists have long lobbied the government to raise the fine for helmetless drivers, and that HIB reiterated its case to the government in advance of February’s inter-ministerial meeting.
“We just made a recommendation to raise [the fine] so that it becomes a real deterrent,” Duly said. “Especially in Phnom Penh, 3,000 riels is not much. It has to be an amount where people think it is better to buy a helmet than to be fined.”
He added that although HIB had not recommended a particular figure, the proposed $5 fine seemed reasonable. He noted that government officials should take into account local wages and helmet prices.
“The cost of a good-quality helmet is about US$10 on average, so, yeah, that amount sounds about right,” he said.
However, Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democratic Informal Economy Association, which represents motorbike taxi drivers as well as tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, said the fine would be unreasonably high for most of the people he represents.
“What is the use for the government to amend the fine for those who violate helmet laws? Ninety percent of people wear them,” he said.
“It would be better to enforce the law. I think that when the new proposed law is adopted, there will be a strong reaction from the people.”
He added that the proposed increase could be an excuse for traffic police to enrich themselves.
“Much of the fining will just give traffic police the chance to extort much money from people,” he said.
Him Yan, however, defended the proposed fine, pointing out that it would be less than similar fines implemented in Thailand and Vietnam, where, he said, officials charge helmet-less motorbike drivers around $10. Duly said that in Vietnam the fine is around $12.
“We have to increase the fine because we have studied the fines in neighbouring countries already and have seen that their GDP growth is a little better than ours, but the fines for traffic law [infringements] are much greater than ours,” Him Yan said.