Controversial amendments to the 2016 Traffic Law passed the National Assembly with strong support yesterday, a development that one traffic expert warned may have sacrificed public safety to score political points.
The amendments passed with support of 93 out of 100 lawmakers present, including acting opposition leader Kem Sokha. The original Traffic Law was signed by King Norodom in January 2016, with Prime Minister Hun Sen almost immediately calling for an amendment eliminating the requirement for a driver’s licence for any motorbikes 125cc and under.
Yesterday that proposal officially became law, as did an amendment lowering the legal driving age from 16 to 15. Sun Chanthol, Minister of Transportation, insisted at the assembly yesterday that eliminating licences will not lead to more traffic accidents.
“It is not about the licence but the understanding of the law,” Chanthol said, pledging to reduce accidents through public education programs like television advertisements.
However, Ear Chariya, founder of the Road Safety Institute, yesterday called the changes “very dangerous”, maintaining that about 80 percent of all registered vehicles in Cambodia are motorbikes at 125cc or under, freeing the vast majority of drivers from licence requirements.
“Motorcycle driving licences are very important … Most accident victims are on motorcycles,” he said. As for the reduced age limit, he noted, “The international standard is 16.”
Chariya was also sceptical of Chanthol’s promises of reduced accidents through ads and television spots.
“They will be driving with no understanding of the rules … A driver’s license is the most effective way to ensure people have knowledge … other forms of education are not as effective,” he said.
Ou Chanrith, a Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker who supported the amendments, admitted yesterday that requiring licences would “probably be the best choice” to ensure the public was properly educated, but that had proven to be too inconvenient for some people living in rural areas.
“They face difficulties in applying for a licence … This will help those people,” he said.
But Mao Monyvann, a CNRP lawmaker who vocally objected to the amendments and did not vote for them, said the government should instead focus on setting up officials in the provinces who can test rural applicants rather than abandoning licences altogether.
Chariya echoed this proposal, saying the current government “prefers to get rid of licences rather than improving services to people in the provinces”.
Chariya added that the amendment will threaten public safety, but was passed for “the benefit of political popularity”.
Prime Minister Hun Sen seemed keenly aware of the political advantage of the position yesterday, saying the amendment was the will of the people and daring CNRP lawmakers who opposed the amendments to make mandatory driver’s licences a part of their official party platform.
“If anyone disagrees, please take it into your party’s policy,” he said. “The [Cambodian People’s Party] does not require people to have licences for motorbikes with engines lower than 125cc.”
Acting president of CNRP Kem Sokha did not take a stand on the party’s official position, but said that he personally supported the amendment.