Cambodia's roads are getting more dangerous. A 2013 World Health Organisation road safety report estimated that around 2,400 Cambodians are killed annually in road accidents.
Motorcyclists accounted for 70 per cent of fatalities, followed by pedestrians, who represented 12 per cent.
A Handicap International study found that road casualties in 2013 cost the Kingdom $337 million – equivalent to three per cent of that year’s GDP.
More than 80 per cent of road traffic deaths are young men aged 15 to 35. Their deaths pose financial implications for their families.
With the National Road Safety Workshop, organised by Asia Injury Prevention and the Ministry of Interior, being held on Monday, we should look at why Cambodia’s roads are so deadly.
A lack of law enforcement has contributed to poor driving habits. Though the law requires drivers to have valid driving licences, the management of driving licences remains under-regulated. Those without a driving licence or who are underage often take to the roads.
Speeding and drink-driving are common. If drivers are caught doing so, they often walk away with a light fine or the payment of a bribe. There is no system in place to revoke their licence.
An outrageous culture of impunity regarding hit-and-runs also contributes to fatal road accidents.
A 23-year-old medical student who killed three children in a 2013 hit-and-run accident walked free from prison after serving less than four months of her three-year jail term.
Similarly, underage hit-and-run driver Yin Mana, who killed a university student in a crash, walked free from prison after serving only two months of her one-year sentence.
The lack of an intelligent transport system – linking speed cameras, traffic management centres, accident detectors and response teams – further adds to congestion and road casualties.
We often rely on Facebook to report traffic accidents. There is no system in place that allows people to report accidents.
The lack of an integrated public transport system encourages people to own vehicles.
The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said there were around 3.6 million registered vehicles on the Kingdom’s roads in 2016 – a 140 per cent increase over the previous five years.
There were 3,132,361 motorbikes and 537,459 cars, with 93 per cent second-hand. This rapid increase means travelling on the roads can be deadly.
Cambodia’s road infrastructure is largely dated and does not meet safety standards.
When asked about the Kingdom’s roads, the first things that pop into our minds are that they are riddled with potholes and have no lights or crossings, and there are no pavements.
Students regularly risk their lives negotiating the streets as there are rarely crossings to use.
The construction of road infrastructure seemingly does not include pavements. And when there are, they are often encroached on by street vendors, cafes, shops and restaurants, or used as parking lots – with monthly bribes to local police.
So what can be done?
The government needs to increase the budget for the National Road Safety Committee, which is under-funded. An increased budget would allow the committee to effectively implement the National Road Safety Action Plan.
The enforcement of traffic law is essential, but it cannot be achieved with poorly paid and overworked traffic police.
The government needs to consider a pay rise and significant incentives for these officers in order to strengthen traffic law enforcement and combat corruption.
We have witnessed enough the culture of impunity in Cambodia. The Kingdom should no longer be a safe haven for hit-and-run drivers and people who drink and drive. Authorities and the courts need to enforce the traffic laws in order to promote road safety and improve driving habits.
The National Road Safety Committee needs to work with the Ministry of Information to advocate reporting on road safety. The media currently lacks policy guidelines and road safety awareness when reporting road accidents.
A system of incentives would encourage meaningful participation and behaviour change in the long run.
The Ministry of Transport and Public Works needs to include pavements in the road infrastructure portfolio.
Pilot projects could start in the major cities and urban areas to ensure the safety of pedestrians.
The ministry needs to work with stakeholders to introduce policy guidelines and a system of fines for those who encroach on pavements.
Intelligent transport systems are a solution of the future. Investment in the technology would enhance traffic efficiency and make roads safer.
It would also reduce the workload of traffic police.
An emergency framework should be incorporated that allows people to report road accidents and enables response teams to act quickly.
Investment in public transport is vital for Cambodia’s sustainable development. It could save around $6 million a month from congestion in Phnom Penh alone and $337 million from road casualties. It would reduce congestion and pollution, and save lives.
The current study on a metro system in Phnom Penh is good to see, but commitment from the political leadership remains essential.
If the government doesn’t act, who else will?
Sopharith Sin is the recipient of an Australian Awards Scholarship. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management at the University of Melbourne, Australia.