Fatalities on Cambodia’s roads grew in 2011, with the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents rising by more than 10 percent compared to 2010, according to data released by the Public Works and Transport Ministry yesterday. Police also confirmed the first road deaths of 2012 after a bus careered into a motorcycle carrying three girls on Sunday.
Preap Chanvibol, director of the ministry’s land transport department, said that last year’s death toll had risen from 1,709 in 2010 to 1,890 and that the reason for the mounting number of deaths was a growing problem of speeding and overloaded cars.
“This year, the deaths increased because drivers are overloading their vehicles and speeding,” he said. “The number of people who died increased by 181 because a single accident more often killed five to 20 people.”
Despite the higher number of deaths, the number of traffic accidents actually fell 10.2 percent to 5,007 compared to 2010, while the number of injuries dropped 11.4 percent to 8,554.
“Forty-five percent of drivers [who caused accidents] were speeding, 11 to 12 percent were drunk driving and 16 percent were driving carelessly,” Mr. Chanvibol added.
Jeroen Stol, country director of Handicap International Belgium, said that it was too early to look into the figures for any trends and that more research was still needed before any conclusions could be reached on why the death count on Cambodia’s roads rose last year.
Still, Mr. Stol said that better roads had meant cars were beginning to drive faster on the roads. “The impact of crashes is likely to be more severe due to higher speeds in significant parts of the country,” he said.
On the reduced number of accidents, Mr. Stol said: “We hope it is due to traffic complying with the traffic law. It would be interesting to continue to follow the trend in 2012 and do thorough research to determine the cause of the decrease.”
Observers of the situation on the country’s roadways say that Cambodia’s roads are actually much more dangerous and that government figures capture only part of the problem.
“It’s not the full number of traffic accidents in Cambodia,” said Socheata Sann, program manager for road safety at Handicap International Belgium, adding that traffic police usually record about 90 percent of fatalities, but only 50 to 60 percent of injuries.
Throughout Cambodia, investment in road infrastructure has led to more vehicles on the roads, but not enough is being spent on road safety measures, she said. For example, although riding a motorcycle without a helmet is one of the main reasons why victims die, it remains legal for passengers to travel without a helmet.
The government is currently working on a draft amendment to the traffic law that would require everyone on motorcycles to wear a helmet.
In 2010, the economic cost of traffic accidents was estimated to be $279 million, according to the Road Crash Victim and Information System, which collates data from the Ministry of Health and traffic police.
On Sunday, three girls, aged 17 to 19, died when a speeding bus hit their motorcycle in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, police said. The bus, owned by an unidentified Vietnamese company, tried to overtake the motorcycle at around midday on National Road 1 on its way to Vietnam, said deputy municipal traffic police chief Pen Khun.
“It was absolutely the bus driver’s fault,” Mr. Khun said, noting that the Vietnamese driver fled the scene and the bus was empty by the time police arrived. “We brought this bus to be kept at the Phnom Penh municipal police station and are investigating the case.”