Uncomfortable, ugly, and expensive—motorbike helmets didn’t always appeal to Hy Sokhom, who used to consider helmets unnecessary.
But after injuring his face in an accident last year, the motorbike taxi driver decided that a full-face helmet would be a good way to protect his stitches.
Srey Yorm, another Phnom Penh taxi driver said that he doesn’t wear a helmet because they are too expensive.
With the cost of motorbike maintenance so high, he said he simply can’t afford the $10 that it costs to buy one.
“I never fall down, but if I had one, I’d wear it,” he said.
A new traffic safety program will make 2,100 free motorcycles helmets available to drivers like Srey Yorm.
Part of a national campaign headed by the Ministry of Health, the program has already given 1,500 helmets to children and adults in Phnom Penh. Later this year, the program will bring helmets to Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey, said Meas Chamly, assistant director of the road safety project.
In Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey, the helmet project is funded by the Belgian Technical Cooperation and implemented by the Provision of Basic Health Services in Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey.
Along with helmets, the program sponsors television, radio and print ads, stressing the importance of road safety, said Meas Chamly.
A new information system, implemented by the Cambodia Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System, will monitor traffic-related accidents in the two provinces.
A recent report by the organization recorded the gender, occupation, age and nature of victims’ injuries in 12 hospitals.
Recorded in April and May of this year, the survey offered more detailed information than current government statistics, Meas Chamly said.
Of the 246 accidents reported in both provinces, the northwestern provicial survey’s findings were relatively consistent with national figures. Roughly two-thirds of the injured patients rode motorbikes.
Motorbike taxi drivers were the least injured group, making up less than five percent of all patients in the survey.
Instead, students were the most accident-prone group, followed by farmers.
“The roads are too small, many people just bought motos and don’t know how to respect traffic [laws],” Lek Ramonith Laurent said.
The Siem Reap-Oddar Meanchey project will provide information to schoolchildren, government officials and motorbike taxi drivers who receive free helmets.
“Young people drive motos,” said Lek Ramonith Laurent. “They are students, they are schoolboys and schoolgirls, they are very, very young.” Lek Ramonith Laurent stressed the importance of education amongst young drivers.
Men were also more likely to be in a traffic-related accident, with more than two-thirds of all injuries incurred by men.
Rita Slot, a technical assistant with Provision of Basic Health Services, said that men are probably more likely to be involved in traffic accidents because they travel more often than women do.
“I think that maybe men go out to work, and women often stay home,” Rita Slot said.
“Maybe the men drink more, but we are not sure,” she added.
In the report, motorbike to motorbike accidents were the most common type of collision, while only 3 percent of Siem Reap motorbike drivers wore helmets.
Helmet use was not reported at all among accident victims in Oddar Meanchey.
In Siem Reap, 66 percent of all accidents occurred on paved roads in April, increasing to 71 percent in May. With improved road conditions and traffic in the province, Slot Rita said that poor knowledge of traffic laws is the main cause of accidents in Siem Reap.
“The roads were developed, accidents increased, but it’s not because the road [was] developed, it’s [due to] lack of education,” Rita Slot said, adding that too often, people don’t understand what certain road signs mean.
(Additional reporting by Chhim Sopheark)