Assembly Passes Sweeping New Traffic Law

The National Assembly on Wednesday passed a comprehensive law to regulate motor vehicle traffic, imposing hefty penalties for both extortion by traffic police and drunk driving as well as re­quiring special seats for children riding in cars.

After four days of debate, the 12-chapter and 95-article draft passed the Assembly by a vote of 67 of the 77 lawmakers present.

“This law aims to reduce traffic accidents and is not only to be obeyed by police or the army. The law will apply to all people and authorities,” National As­sembly President Heng Samrin said.

The Transport and Justice ministries carefully drafted the law, which is to come into effect in six months, Transport Minister Sun Chanthol told the Assembly.

“I think an average of three people dying in Cambodia every day is a lot,” Sun Chanthol said of traffic deaths.

“It’s no small amount but people seem to pay less attention than they would if an airliner crash killed 100 every month.”

The new law will replace the current hodgepodge of regulations known as Law 68, which dates back to the late 1980s, according to Tin Prasouer, municipal traffic police chief in Phnom Penh.

Traffic accidents killed 920 people and wounded 6,000 others in the first 11 months of this year, Sun Chanthol said, adding that such accidents annually cost the Cambodian economy $120 million, or some 3 percent of GDP.

While 10 percent of accidents were attributed to either poor road conditions or vehicle maintenance, 90 percent were due to the failure to follow rules, he added.

The new law imposes a one-month license suspension on drivers who fail to observe posted signs and signals and bans both motorbike and car drivers from talking on mobile phones while in traffic.

Kim Ly, an 11-year veteran of the Phnom Penh municipal traffic police, said the contents of the legislation would have little effect on motorists’ behavior.

“Whatever the law states, people will continue to break the law,” he said, standing at the corner of Street 63 and Sihanouk Boulevard.

“If they see me standing and watching them, they don’t break the rules. If we are not in position, they try to break the rules,” he said.

The law will require children under 10 years of age to wear seatbelts and bans them from riding in the front seats of vehicles.

Drivers found to have more than 0.8 grams of alcohol in a liter of blood could face between six days and six months in jail and fines of between $6 and $246.

The law will also impose fines of $488 to $1,463 on traffic police who extort money from motorists or damage their property during traffic stops.

SRP leader Sam Rainsy said he welcomed the new law.

“I raised my hand because I think this law is much better than having no law,” he said, adding that the fines prescribed for traffic police may be too heavy.

But SRP lawmaker Keo Remy said he had voted against the law because it imposed heavy fines on underpaid police officers while other corrupt officials enriched themselves to a far greater de­gree.

“Look at the customs officials who gain millions of dollars through corruption but pay only administrative fines,” he said.

“This law takes a lot of money from poor traffic police,” he said.

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