At least 18 pedestrians were struck and killed by cars and motorcycles in Phnom Penh in 2008, and municipal authorities said this week that they will take steps to make it safer to walk around the city’s increasingly congested streets.
On top of the death toll, 407 pedestrians were injured in the 11-month period to December by vehicles in Phnom Penh, according to statistics by Handicap International Belgium, which tracks traffic accidents and casualties nationwide.
According to the organization, about 7 percent of all accidents in the city last year involved pedestrians, following 8 percent in 2006 and 2007.
“What we are seeing is a growing trend, with more accidents involving pedestrians [nationwide],” said Ryan Duly, road safety adviser for HIB.
“More important is that a significant amount of these accidents end in fatalities, not just injuries,” he said.
One reason pedestrians are at such risk in Phnom Penh, according to Duly, is the parked cars that crowd many of the city’s sidewalks and streets, forcing walkers onto the road and into the line of danger.
“Obviously the parking situation presents a safety issue, forcing pedestrians off the sidewalk and closer to the traffic,” Duly said.
Handicap International’s figures show that 72 percent of pedestrians involved in accidents were hit by motorcycles, while 20 percent were struck by four-wheeled vehicles. The figures include pedestrians hit while crossing the street as well as those pushed off the sidewalk by parked cars.
Municipal Traffic Police Chief Tim Prasoer said enforcing parking regulations is difficult because the city does not provide enough public parking space for the thousands of new cars and motorcycles registered in Phnom Penh each year.
“To deal with parking problems, district and municipal authorities should provide some parking space,” he said.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Him Yan, municipal deputy police chief in charge of public order, said that at a meeting Wednesday evening, municipal Deputy Governor Chreang Sophan told district and police officials to get serious about proper parking, starting with private businesses, primarily hotels, private schools, restaurants and markets.
Him Yan said that punishing drivers who park their cars haphazardly on pavements and roads is not the city’s priority. The first focus, he said, is to ease congestion caused by cars parked poorly in front of commercial premises.
Improving the overall situation for pedestrians will begin with situating more signs indicating where cars can and cannot be parked, he said.
Restaurants and other businesses will be required to have parking space on their own property, Him Yan said, though he did not provide any details regarding how that requirement would be enforced in Phnom Penh, where parking space is extremely limited.
“Whoever in the future intends to run hotels, restaurants, supermarkets…has to ensure that they have a parking lot for clients,” he said.
Chreang Sophan could not be reached for comment Thursday. Another deputy governor, Pa Socheatvong, said, “City Hall has a plan” for solving the parking problems, but would not elaborate and referred further questions to Chreang Sophan.
Duly said increased public parking space would pay off in at least two ways.
“In addition to making the city safer, requiring people to pay to park may convince them not to drive their cars as much when they don’t need to,” he said.
More importantly, police and city officials need to make more of an effort to educate the city’s drivers about the benefits of following the rules of the road, he said.
“It is important that they understand that this is to make things safer,” he said.