Amid a Culture of Hit-and-Runs, a Call for Enforcement of the Law

In a week that saw drivers flee the scenes of three separate road accidents that killed two people and injured six, a road safety monitoring organization criticized the toleration of “hit-and-run” road crimes and called on the government to impose maximum sentences for drivers who take flight.

An 18-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman were killed on Monday in two separate hit-and-run accidents in Ratanakkiri province, while four people were injured when a speeding Range Rover ploughed into a tuk-tuk near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh on Sunday morning.

The driver and passengers in the Range Rover fled on foot, leaving the wrecked vehicle on its roof, while the tuk-tuk passengers were taken to the hospital.

In one of the Ratanakkiri hit-and-runs, Binh Pen, 18, was killed and his father and sister seriously injured when a car smashed into their motorbike on National Road 78 in Banlung City. In that case, the driver also ran away on foot.

“After the incident, the driver learned that the condition was very serious, so he ran, leaving his van,” said Thoung Rith, an officer with the provincial traffic police, said.

In another hit-and-run also on Monday, 27-year-old Sing Thavorn was hit by a car in Banlung City driven by Norn Chanthai, a lieutenant from the provincial fire department. After killing the woman, the police officer fled the scene.

“It was really reckless driving,” Mr. Rith said. “We have not found the driver yet.”

Data for 2011 show that hit-and-runs represented 19 percent of all reported crashes and 25 percent of traffic accident fatalities that year, said Ear Chariya, road safety program manager for Handicap International Belgium (HIB).

Fifty-four percent of all hit-and-runs involved drivers of motorbikes, 21 percent drove a car and 13 percent drove goods vehicles, he said.

While articles 80, 81 and 82 of the traffic law state that drivers who commit a hit-and-run face a maximum prison sentence of three years if found guilty, sentencing is rare for drivers who flee the scene of an accident, Mr. Chariya said.

“We need to make people aware that hit-and-runs will receive the maximum level of punishment,” he said.

Data is not yet available for 2012, but Mr. Chariya believes the culture of hit-and-runs is worsening, due in part to fears of retribution by errant drivers who do not want to be held accountable—legally and financially—for hurting or killing the victim of a traffic accident.

“When we ask them why [they run away]…they are afraid of [having] killed the victim and because of a fear for their own security—they have to run away,” Mr. Chariya said, referring to the phenomena where mobs of bystanders have beaten drivers, some seriously, who have caused fatal accidents.

Mr. Rith, the traffic police officer in Ratanakkiri, said running from a traffic accident is more the norm than staying to face the music.

“If it is a rural area, people have a chance to run away. Running is easier than negotiating,” he said.

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