Shortly before 9 am on June 25, Pol Loen parked his bicycle on the side of National Route 4 and stepped off the road to relieve himself. When he turned around, he saw a Mitsubishi Pajero crash headfirst into a pickup truck. Bodies flew all over the road.
Pol Loen, 72, rushed to the aid of the truck’s driver, who had been thrown through the windshield into a nearby ditch. He dragged the man onto the side of the road and laid him next to the bloody corpse of a 4-year-old girl.
“It was horrible,” Pol Loen said, “It was the worst accident I’ve ever seen.”
Van Yoeung, 42, runs a small tire repair stand about 50 meters from the site of the accident. That morning he ran to the scene to see whether he could help the victims, but stopped himself short.
“I’ve seen many accidents, but this one was terrifying,” Van Yoeung said. “When I saw all the blood, I was frightened, and I didn’t touch any of the bodies.”
The crash, in which eight people died and another eight were injured, was preceded two weeks earlier by an accident in which a bus collided with a truck, killing 14 and injuring 23 others.
The scenes came in the wake of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation’s January unveiling of its Road Safety Action Plan, a proposal that outlines 15 action points to address the problem of traffic safety.
According to statistics included in the plan, Cambodia had around 17 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles in 2003, almost double the road safety target for 2004 agreed upon in August 2001 by all Asean members. The plan pinpoints education, law enforcement, and effective and efficient legislation as key factors in the solution of the traffic safety problem.
It also includes a proposal for a new traffic safety law that would make wearing seat belts and helmets compulsory, and provides a clearly defined legal blood alcohol concentration level accompanied by heavy fines for drunken driving. The law awaits ratification by the National Assembly.
But law enforcement officials say the new legislation might not be enough.
“Drivers do not respect the law,” said Sin Sovanthy, traffic police chief for Kompong Speu province. “And actually, we don’t have the facilities to stop speeding vehicles…. They are too fast for us.”
The lack of proper equipment may contribute to road fatalities. Sin Sovanthy said he and his officers arrived at the crash scene June 25 an hour after the crash, primarily because they lacked adequate transportation. Of the eight people killed in the accident, five died either on the way to or in the hospital.
“[Our lateness] might have contributed to the number of deaths,” Sin Sovanthy said.
As the introduction to the Road Safety Action Plan states, “It is recognized that traffic accidents are rarely the result of a single cause or factor.”
Eyewitness and police reports of the June 25 accident revealed a number of factors contributing to the crash. The driver of the pickup truck did not have a license. A third vehicle that, according to eye-witnesses, caused the accident by bumping into the pickup truck before it was hit by the Pajero, fled the scene. The driver has yet to be apprehended. The Pajero may also have been speeding.
The Road Safety Action Plan is intended to address those causal factors of road accidents. But the plan must first be approved by the Council of Ministers, said the plan’s architect, Ung Chun Huor, deputy director general of transport and director of the land transport department.
Ung Chun Huor said he is currently in the process of submitting the plan to the Council of Ministers, along with a proposal to establish a national road safety committee, which would monitor the road safety situation in Cambodia.