Chib Samnang, 15, is from a poor farming family of five children in Khvav commune’s Samor Krom village of Takeo province’s Traing district.
Samnang was forced to drop out of school during Grade 5 and find work as a spraypainter at a wood workshop in the village.
In May this year, he was riding in a tuk-tuk with his father and several friends when the driver collided with a cart. The accident left him with life-changing injuries.
Laying in bed with sombre expression on his face, Samnang explained that his father is a subsistence farmer, so he decided to drop out of school and work, with the expectation that the additional income would ease his family’s financial burden. The accident dashed all of his hopes.
“That day, I was transporting timber to the workshop in a tuk-tuk with my father. I rode in front, close to the driver.
“When we had the collision, I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, one of my feet had gone and my other leg was shattered. At such a young age, I was permanently disabled,” he said.
With sad and regretful expression on her face, his mother Mok Phaon, 47, said that her husband was also injured in the accident, but was recovering at home.
The real challenge that the family was now facing was a debt of $5,500 at two micro-finance institutions.
She had spent $2,000 treating her son and husband. The workshop owner had also assisted her, paying 2 million riel towards the treatment.
“I was relying on my son and husband to earn money to pay off the debt, but now my suffering has doubled. My son and my husband are lying ill and we have no money to service our debt. If this was an uncommon accident, I would not be so upset, but this was another road accident. I am very disappointed.
“My son has been left disabled and we don’t even know if his remaining leg will recover. The doctors inserted a metal rod into his tibia to stabilise the fractures, but did not perform additional surgery,” she added.
Mok Phaon said that she was afraid of traffic accidents, and believed they were becoming more common, because road users failed to respect traffic laws.
The majority of road users violated each other’s rights without thinking about the safety of other people.
They often passed recklessly, which put everyone in danger, and even resulted in the deaths of innocent people, she said.
She asked that every member of the public think about road safety when they were riding a motorcycle or at the wheel of a car. If they don’t value their own lives, they should think about the lives of others.
“Traffic accidents cost families’ time and money and even lives. Brothers, sisters and parents all suffer when a member of their family is injured – or worse,” Phaon added.
Asia Injury Prevention Foundation country director Kim Panga, said on June 16 that the problem of traffic accidents was concerning. The causes of accidents were varied, he said.
He posed the question: why are these road accidents happening?
He said that in Cambodia, the number of registered vehicle is about 500,000, most of which are motorcycles. Current road traffic laws do not stipulate that a 125cc or under capacity motorcycle requires a driver’s licence.
Those who wanted to ride motorcycles simply learned from their relatives or friends.
This meant they often lacked understanding of the rules of the road, had acquired bad habits from their instructor or had no idea of how to handle an emergency situation. This meant that they were more susceptible to accidents.
He added that in addition to an increase in the number of vehicles, improvements to the roads meant people were able to travel further and more often. They also saw new roads as
safer to speed on, which meant the consequences of accidents were often more serious.
Panga said that according to the figures from the last few years, the number of speeding vehicles had dropped, as speed cameras and radar traps were deployed. The Ministry of Health had presented figures which showed that just six or seven per cent of accidents were caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.
He noted that the road accidents seemed be more prevalent late at night, and attributed this to a reduced police presence after dark. This meant people were more likely to drive at speed at night, with predictable results.
“My organisation encourages all law enforcement bodies to set the enforcement of traffic laws as a priority. All countries which have focused on this area – and tightened regulations – have seen a drop in deaths and injuries. Cambodia would be no different,” he said.
He knew that road traffic laws were now taught from Grade 1 to Grade 4 and that education campaigns had been run on television and the radio, and believed that the Kingdom was the only country in the region to do so.
Unfortunately, he believed that many Cambodians had no interest in learning the rules. Until they had a problem, they were indifferent, Panga said.
“My organisation is currently working to share this knowledge at factories and at universities, so we are reaching hundreds of thousands of people. In my view, this awareness campaign should be part of the Kingdom’s long term harm reduction strategy,” he added.
Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and chairman of National Road Safety Committee, said in a Facebook post in late March that road accidents remained a serious problem.
Every day, around five people are killed in road accidents and 10 people sustain injuries. The number of accidents was on the rise again in the first quarter of this year, just as the dangers from landmines, AIDS or Covid-19 were waning, he added.
“I renew my calls for all road users to respect the road traffic laws – and each other,” he posted.