Cambodians typically understand the risks of driving drunk, but many, especially young men, admit to doing it anyway, according to a study published in this month’s issue of the journal Public Health.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University questioned 1,187 drivers, all but 45 of them men, in 14 districts in Phnom Penh and Kandal and Kompong Speu provinces at rest stops and gas stations from 2010 to 2012.
Nearly 9 out of 10 drivers agreed that alcohol increases the risk of a crash, according to the survey by the U.S. research school’s international injury research unit.
“However, this knowledge does not necessarily translate into safe driving practices,” the study says, noting that nearly half of the 25- to 34-year-old men surveyed admitted that they had driven within two hours of drinking over the previous month.
Roughly half of the respondents said they restricted the amount they drank before driving, but researchers said the strategy was unlikely to be successful given alcohol’s exponential impairment on judgment.
“This study supports the theory that participants are over-confident about being involved in an alcohol-related crash,” the authors wrote, calling for increased enforcement and better education on the risks of driving after drinking.
Drunk driving is the second-highest cause of traffic accidents and related fatalities in the country, with deaths rising 42 percent from 272 in 2011 to 387 in 2015, according to data from the National Road Safety Committee.
Run Rathveasna, director of the Interior Ministry’s public order department, described the death toll as “quite high,” but said the government was conducting an anti-drunk driving campaign across television, radio and newspapers, as well as with local officials.
“What is important is that every day we are promoting [safe driving] and having regular checkpoints on the road at night, when they are usually drunk,” he said.
Road safety expert Ear Chariya said the government had acted with gusto to enforce drunk driving laws after the passage of last year’s Land Traffic Law, before its efforts dropped off to almost nothing.
“Enforcement on drunk driving is very difficult,” he said, citing confrontational drivers and an entrenched and largely unregulated alcohol industry.
Sovann Kong, country manager for the industry group International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, said spirit-makers took the issue seriously and were sponsoring educational campaigns to prevent more accidents.
But Mr. Chariya predicted such efforts would have “very low impact” without more regulation and enforcement.
(Additional reporting by Phan Soumy)