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Traffic deaths drop, though experts fear revisions to law

Traffic moves on Preah Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh earlier this week.
Traffic moves on Preah Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh earlier this week. Hong Menea

Traffic deaths drop, though experts fear revisions to law

Motorbike accidents accounted for 72 percent of the total traffic fatalities in Cambodia this year, according to a new report from the Ministry of Interior, released the same day the National Assembly voted to do away with requirements for driver’s licences for the vast majority motorbikes.

Monday’s report also shows that motorbike drivers incurred 68 percent of the roughly $6 million in fines reported collected by police. Overall, the ministry touted a reduction in traffic accidents in 2016 compared to the previous year. According to the report, there were 3,338 accidents resulting in 1,576 fatalities and 5,962 injuries in 2016.

“The number of traffic accidents is down by 451 incidents, which equals 12%. The number of dead is down by 259 people, or 14%,” the report reads.

According to a study released this year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, traffic accidents and fatalities sharply rose from 2006 to 2014, before beginning to taper off again in 2015.

Run Roth Veasna, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said government policy is responsible for the decrease in accidents and fatalities.

“They obeyed road safety better this year because the government implemented the new traffic law . . . police still continue to promote the traffic law to the residents,” he said.

Roth Veasna also said the new, controversial amendments to the law, including scrapping licence requirements and lowering the legal driving age to 15, will help make roads safer.

“The new laws are important and will help reduce traffic accidents,” he said.

However, Ear Chariya, founder of the Road Safety Institute, questioned the accuracy of some of the report’s findings and flatly denied the new amendments would improve safety. “It’s a great concern that moto drivers don’t need a licence when they are the vast majority of fatalities,” he said, adding that he expected the amount of motorbike fatalities to now increase.

Chariya also said the $6 million collected in fines over an entire year was a “small amount”, and could be attributed to lax enforcement of laws as well as police corruption.

“There are two reasons for this: Police do not enforce the law strictly, and police may not report fines,” he said, explaining that many officers simply solicit informal payments then let drivers off the hook.

Furthermore, Chariya challenged the report’s claim that just 12 percent of accidents were caused by drunk driving.

“Police don’t have equipment for testing … they don’t have breathalysers, they don’t test blood … they try to observe by smelling or talking to the driver,” he said.

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