Every day on the news I see traffic accidents. Lives are tragically cut short on the streets we commute on, leaving bereaved families mourning the irreplaceable losses they have endured. Innocent people have become disabled, causing enormous financial hardship for their families as they bear the burden of their medical treatment.

Furthermore, these gruesome accidents negatively affect our economy by draining valuable human resources from the country. 

Traffic accidents are deemed one of the leading causes of fatalities and injuries in Cambodia. Each passing day, numerous innocent lives are crushed under the wheels of careless and irresponsible drivers.

According to the National Police report, the number of road deaths in Cambodia fell to 1,590 in 2023, a seven per cent decrease from 1,709 in 2022. Notwithstanding this slight drop, the same source showed that the recorded cases of road accidents were 3,317 in 2023, increasing 11 per cent from 2,976 in 2022. On average, at least four individuals are killed and 12 injured in crashes in Cambodia daily.

Traffic accidents in Cambodia are caused by multi-faceted circumstances, including the consumption of alcohol and drugs, excessive speeding, ignoring traffic regulations, using a phone while driving, drivers’ irresponsible behaviours, limited traffic law enforcement, road quality, unregulated licensing and a general disrespect for road safety practices.

As per the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2019 report in Cambodia, besides the main cause of fatalities and injuries, road accidents have shockingly inflicted the overwhelming financial burden of around $466 million on Cambodia annually due to disability and medical treatment expenses coupled with the loss of human assets. This amount of economic loss constituted 1.7% of the national GDP.

Ways forward

Hence, it is time to address this alarming issue so as to save the lives of the faultless and safeguard the development of our beloved country. The comprehensive approach concerning infrastructure development, law enforcement, public awareness and education should be taken into consideration by all stakeholders as follow: 

Infrastructure Development 

As roads are the primary means of transport in the Kingdom, constituting 65% of goods movement and 87% of passenger traffic, enhancing road infrastructure is one of the main keys to reducing accidents.

The government should invest more in well-maintained roads, proper signage and road markings including lines, arrows, symbols and words that indicate things like lanes, merging points, pedestrian crossings and other important information for drivers on the road.

Additionally, the measure of road safety should be further enhanced by incorporating speed cameras and traffic lights at every intersection. Regular maintenance and repair work on existing roads should not be taken for granted as they can ensure safe driving conditions for all road users and prevent accidents caused by hazardous potholes or uneven surfaces.

Strengthen Law Enforcement

Noticeably, concerning the recorded road accidents last year, driving under the influence of alcohol and vehicle factors accounted for 12 per cent of accidents, while speeding accounted for 41 per cent and breaking traffic laws for 22 per cent. Among the death toll, motorcyclists made up 80 per cent and 73% of them did not wear helmets.

In this sense, strengthening enforcement of traffic laws is also one of the effective tools to curb accidents. It will help to dissuade reckless driving and encourage drivers to follow the rules of the road. Enforcing uniformly hefty punishments for traffic violators and holding individuals accountable for breaching road safety regulations will create a safer and more responsible driving environment for all road occupants.

This will also instil a sense of responsibility and respect among all drivers, leading to a more harmonious and cooperative driving culture in our country. Additionally, regular vehicle inspections to ensure roadworthiness can further reduce the likelihood of traffic accidents. 

Raising Public Awareness and Education 

Apart from the strengthened law enforcement, raising public awareness about the importance of using seat belts, helmets for drivers and pillions and adherence to speed limits and road safety guidelines as well as responsible driving is necessary. This not only helps minimise the number of accidents but also promotes a culture of empathy and consideration on the roads. 

Additionally, relevant stakeholders can organise campaigns and workshops to educate individuals about the significance of following traffic rules and the potential consequences of reckless driving. 

In the long run, road safety education should be comprehensively integrated into school curricula as it will help foster the sense of mutual understanding and responsibilities for our future generations growing up as responsible and careful drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Accelerating Concerted Collaborations 

Since traffic accidents are a social problem hindering our national development and social prosperity, it is necessary to have the active participation from relevant stakeholders including government agencies, law enforcement, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and citizens to work hand in hand to handle this awful tragedy. 

Most significantly, drivers, as good citizens, should firmly abide by traffic laws and regulations while driving. In so doing, they will not only save their lives but also rescue lives of the innocent because the road accidents may cause deaths and injuries to all road users – both perpetrators and victims – indiscriminately. 

To effectively solve the traffic accident problem in Cambodia, it requires an holistic approach including infrastructure development, law enforcement, public awareness, education and active joint efforts. As a result, the Kingdom will be able to create more secure and safer road conditions for its subjects. 

For individuals’ safety, all commuters should possess the sense of utmost caution and responsibility while using the roads and bear in mind that their today-accidents are perhaps their last accidents. Therefore, they should drive mindfully at all times. 

Yen Samnang is a former guest editor at the Cambodian Education Forum.

The views expressed are his own.