Cambodia has the necessary laws to improve road safety, but not the necessary enforcement, according to a global report from the World Health Organization released this week.
The Global Status Report on Road Safety summarizes traffic laws and fatalities in 178 countries, and highlights the disproportionate number of people who die on the roads of developing countries.
“Over 90 percent of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle-income countries,” the report said.
Of the 1,545 people killed on Cambodia’s roads in 2007, 81 percent were defined as “vulnerable road users:” pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.
In the section on Cambodia, the WHO pointed out that, although Cambodia has laws in place restricting the blood alcohol level of drivers and requiring motorcycle helmets, child restraints and seat belts for drivers, the enforcement of those laws is very weak.
On a scale from zero to 10, with 10 representing the most effective enforcement of traffic laws, Cambo-
dian police action didn’t score higher than a two ranking. That grade was awarded for enforcement of motorcycle helmet laws, which was only instituted this year.
Cambodia’s drink-driving law was rated as “not yet enforced.”
Kong Sovann, technical officer for road traffic and injury prevention at the WHO’s Cambodia office, said Wednesday that the organization would soon release a statement on road safety conditions in Cambodia, and declined to comment further.
Sann Socheata, road safety manager for Handicap International, said by telephone that the WHO study highlights the need for better enforcement of existing laws.
“Enforcement is really one of the top priorities,” she said, added that the lack of police enforcement of the law after dark—as most law enforcement officers are not re-
quired to work at night—is a big contributor to the havoc on the roads.
“Almost half of the serious accidents happen at night, especially for drink driving,” she said.
Ms Socheata said that, besides improved enforcement, she would like to see better coordination be-
tween road safety education and traffic law enforcement.
“If we educate on helmets, the enforcement should follow,” she explained, adding that education should target young people and new drivers especially.
Tin Prasoer, director of Phnom Penh’s traffic police department, said Wednesday that he did not agree with the WHO’s evaluation of Cambodia’s road safety problems.
“It is their right to evaluate us, but police officials are trying to do better, even if sometimes the outcome doesn’t reach the point we want,” Mr Prasoer said.
He added that Phnom Penh has seen a lot of development in the last 10 years, which means that more people now have cars and motorcycles, “but some of its residents do not use those materials properly.”
Mr Prasoer acknowledged that a large number of traffic accidents occur at night, because drivers are more likely to be drunk, drive fast and leave their helmets at home.
However, he maintained that police are trying to step up nighttime enforcement.
“Even though the traffic police unit lacks officers to work at night, from now on we will try to work at night with aid from the judicial police unit to check drivers we suspect are drunk or speeding,” he continued.
Earlier this month, municipal police representatives said that a very limited campaign to employ speed laser guns and alcohol breath analyzers usually wraps up by 11 pm.
Lieutenant-General Ouk Kimlek, deputy secretary-general of the National Police and deputy chairman of the National Road Safety Committee, said that he had not yet seen the WHO report.
“Some organizations are not happy with us, so they are free to say bad things about us,” he said.
“What’s important is that we are implementing the law, and that we ourselves know we are doing it,” added Mr Kimlek.
The WHO study was based on the results of a questionnaire distributed to representatives of national and international road safety organizations, government officials, NGO workers, and academics.
The methods stipulated that officials from government health, transport and police authorities provide input.