Passing through a yellow traffic light or turning right on a red when the way is clear are two areas that drivers and over-zealous police officers in the bustling capital cannot seem to agree on, prompting high-ranking officials to weigh in and advise their subordinates to tolerate these two types of misdemeanours, as long as they are done safely.

Municipal police spokesman San Sokseyha has confirmed that a letter was issued on August 13 to traffic police officers instructing them not to fine drivers in such cases.

“If a traffic light is red and they turn right when the way is clear, we should not pursue them and fine them. It almost appears like motorists are targeted at some intersections. As for yellow light runners, they should be educated, especially if there are pedestrians present, but do not fine them,” it said.

“Overall, drivers’ behaviour is improving and our educational way of enforcing the law is paying off. There may be a few officers who are excessive in enforcing the law, so we have sent this instruction out to remind them of our policy. If any officers are still not getting the message, we will call them in for special training,” said Sokseyha.

Phnom Penh delivery driver Sok Bropov said that despite the instructions, not all traffic police were following them. Generally, when they stopped a vehicle, they found fault so they could impose fines. He expected that this instruction would be observed, but predicted that the police would revert to their “old ways” after a short time.

“Matters involving the police are very hard. These instructions keep being issued, but we, the public, keep getting fined. Overall, it feels like they are just looking for ways to make money from us. It is only when there is some kind of major reaction that these instructions are issued once again, and the fines stop for a short time,” he said.

Phen Sovan, another driver who had been caught passing through a yellow light himself when the light changed without warning, welcomed the instructions.

He said some traffic lights display a countdown timer, so people know the lights are about to change, but some do not. He believed that this leads to many drivers inadvertently running yellow lights.

“Certain traffic lights have warning numbers, but others do not. It is difficult to judge the traffic lights without the numbers. As soon as the pedestrian light comes on, the light turns yellow,” he said.

Sun Chheko, a resident in the capital’s Kamboul district, said when the lights change to red or even yellow, motorists had best stop, whether turning right or otherwise.

“I once passed through an intersection against a yellow light and was stopped by traffic officers. Even though I spoke politely with them and apologised for my error, they fined me 100,000 riel [$25],” he said.

Kim Pagna, country director of Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation, said on August 15 that traffic police should undergo more training and that tough action should be taken against any officers who do not follow the instruction. They should be replaced by officers who understand their roles.

He added that if possible, officers stationed at busy intersections should spend their time instructing motorists and advising them of the law.

“I think it is good to raise people’s awareness … If people hear something from a police officer every time they pass the same traffic lights, they will most likely remember what they are told. Signs that warn against turning right on a red might be advisable at some intersections,” he said.