Traffic safety in Cambodia remains a major challenge according to Weimin Ren, director of the transport division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Cambodian officials have expressed agreement with that assessment, noting that the rate of traffic accidents in the Kingdom has risen to an alarming degree recently.

Addressing a road safety capacity building workshop in Cambodia on November 16 in Siem Reap, Weimin raised his concerns about road safety in Cambodia and in the entire Asia-Pacific region for all middle-income countries.

“Road safety remains a major challenge for us. In our region, 97 per cent of road fatalities occur in middle-income countries with vulnerable road users, including motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists, which account for over 50 per cent of deaths,” he said, adding that the proportion of larger vehicles such as cars to the number of vulnerable road users is largest in middle-income countries as low-income countries have far fewer cars on the road, while high-income countries have the most cars, but far fewer vulnerable road users.

Min Manavy, secretary of state for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and secretary-general of the National Road Safety Committee, said that the number of serious accidents had increased significantly in the first nine months of 2022 as the economy opened up again after a lull due to the pandemic, which resulted in an alarming rise in deaths and injuries from road accidents when compared to the same period in 2021.

In a report, the National Road Safety Committee said that the first nine months of 2022 had seen 2,286 traffic accidents – an increase of 21 per cent – which included 1,342 fatalities, an increase of 27 per cent.

The report said that the number of serious injuries was 2,004 – an increase of 28 per cent – and 2,391 minor injuries were recorded, an increase of 14 per cent when compared to the same period in 2021.

“The seriousness of the road traffic crisis has resulted in the loss of life, injuries, disability and damage to public and private property. The crisis has left Cambodian society with orphaned, widowed and disabled victims, just as road accidents have had tragic consequences for societies around the world,” she said.

She continued that these difficulties had also greatly affected the transport sector in the Kingdom, which is the life of the national economy and vital to family economies.

Previously, in 2010, the UN recommended that every nation launch a “Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020” in order to cut the number of traffic accidents by half globally. As for that plan’s progress, Cambodia has yet to achieve its goals.

“For Cambodia, we need to reduce road accident victims by about 7,350 people out of the overall estimate of 14,700 people annually. Cambodia has reduced our numbers by 4,720 people, which is about 31 per cent,” Min Manavy explained.

Traffic accident expert and consultant Kong Ratanak said on November 17 that one of the causes of the increase in traffic accidents in low-and-middle-income countries was that the infrastructure of those countries is not very good and the use of safer vehicles like cars remained limited while the use of more vulnerable vehicles sharing the road with them was still common.

“We can see that the number of traffic accidents has increased continuously. It has kept increasing because the traffic flow has increased and also because the number of roads that have been improved and put into operation.

“Better road conditions encourages travel of more considerable distances than before and that means more accidents.As for tightening Cambodia's road traffic law, that isn’t really necessary, we just need to have the existing laws enforced fully and on a regular basis,” he said.

Ratanak has called on road users to obey the traffic laws and to better understand the laws as well as safe driving practices, because not everything that is technically legal is safe to do under all circumstances.

He said the government should make it easier for people to gain this knowledge with traffic education programmes in addition to improved roads and stricter enforcement.

He said that law enforcement officers should increase traffic law enforcement efforts so that the law is consistently applied at all times and to consider the safety of passengers rather than just imposing fines on them.

The National Police said that as of November 15, there were 70 deaths due to traffic accidents, as compared to the first 15 days in October, which had 46 deaths – an increase of 24 people, which represented a 52 per cent increase in fatalities, partly due to increased travel during the Water Festival holiday.