The Council of Ministers on Friday approved a new draft traffic law aimed at improving the safety of Cambodia’s notoriously dangerous roads, with only legislative approval standing in the way of the bill being passed into law.
The draft law, which includes changes to 64 articles, the addition of 15 new articles and removal of 18, will be sent to the National Assembly “as soon as possible,” according to Chhuon Vuon, vice secretary general of the National Road Safety Committee.
Drunk drivers will face stiffer fines under the new law, up from a maximum of $1,000 to nearly $4,000, and all motorcycle passengers—which will be limited to two adults and one child—will be required to wear helmets.
“I think the new draft traffic law will respond to people’s needs and promote implementation of the law to reduce deaths from accidents,” said Mr. Vuon, whose committee is responsible for overseeing the implementation of traffic laws.
When the law comes into force, oversight of the road safety committee will be shifted from the Ministry of Public Works to the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Vuon said, with Sar Kheng, the interior minister, becoming the new chairman. Mr. Kheng will replace current chairman Tram Iv Tek, the minister of public works and transport.
“We want this committee under one umbrella so it’s easy to coordinate,” said Mr. Voun, noting that the Ministry of Interior is already responsible for the officers charged with implementing the law on the ground.
In March, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in one of his regular nationally televised speeches that more Cambodians die per year from road accidents today than during the tumultuous years following the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
“Even during the years of war people did not die every day, yet on average, more than five people die every day in Cambodia due to traffic accidents,” he said. “In 10 days, 50 or 60 people die. About 600 will die every 100 days and in one year, more than 2,000 people [die], with about 10,000 more injured.”
Ear Chariya, a road safety consultant and former program manager at Handicap International, said the draft traffic law has the potential to improve road safety if it is actually enforced by traffic officers, who are known to take bribes rather than issue official tickets and fines.
“There won’t be any additional incentives for traffic cops [to stop taking bribes], but what would make the difference is the new traffic law will switch the chairman of the National Road Safety Committee from the Minister of Public Works and Transport to the Minister of Interior, who directly manages the traffic cops,” Mr. Chariya said in an email.
“This gives us hope that the enforcement will be improved,” he added.
But in Phnom Penh on Friday, a traffic police officer, who declined to give his name for fear of losing his job, said it will not make a difference who chairs the committee.
“Traffic police will still take bribes because it’s a livelihood issue,” said the officer, who earns just over $100 per month. “You have to understand people need their dignity and would not take bribes if they had better salaries.”
Opposition CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who said he had not yet read the draft law, doubted that it would affect policing on the roads.
“It doesn’t make any difference. The implementing of the law on the ground is by the officers. It will still very much be based on bribery,” he said.
“It’s still going to be a big business.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Consiglio)