Information Minister Says Hit-and-Run Drivers Must Face Justice

The law must punish dangerous drivers who cause death or injury, no matter if they pay large sums in compensation to their victims, a government minister said Wednesday.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters, on the sidelines of a workshop intended to school journalists on road safety legislation, that most developing countries experienced high numbers of road accidents—just like Cambodia.

“I thought that the number of accidents in our country is higher than other countries in the world, but when I visited northern Vietnam, the number is also high like in our country because the area is under development like our country,” he said, adding that about five people die each day on the roads in Cambodia.

Mr. Kanharith claimed there was “confusion” about what should happen to hit-and-run drivers—who are responsible for many of the deaths and injuries on Cambodia’s roads.

“Some people still misunderstand about accidents because they think that they can just pay $2,000 in compensation to finish the problem when they’ve killed someone in an accident,” he said.

“They should still face criminal charges in the court even though they have paid compensation to the victim’s family,” he said, adding that those responsible for traffic deaths should be given between three and five years in jail.

“They must face maximum punishment because this is a criminal case.”

In the most recent high-profile hit-and-run case, 23-year-old medical student Keam Piseth Manita—the daughter of a health department official in Kandal province—fled after hitting two separate motorcycles before plowing her car into traffic, killing three children and injuring six people.

She was charged and is jailed awaiting trial, but her family has paid a combined $21,500 to the families of the deceased in the hopes of securing her release.

Although Mr. Kanharith’s com­ments were delivered to an audience of journalists, the message was for the courts—which by law should not drop a case even if the complaint is dropped —said Chariya Ear, manager of Handicap International Belgium’s road safety program.

“In developed countries, it wouldn’t happen like this. They will face the law, even if the victims withdraw their complaint. In Cambodia, it should happen like in the other countries, but in reality, the court doesn’t proceed for justice,” he said.

“Many people try to negotiate outside of the courts and provide compensation to the victim. And the victims, many of them are poor, so they accept the money and they don’t want to go through the process of the legal system.”

Transportation Minister Tram Iv Tek, also speaking at the workshop, said that the cost of road accidents to the economy was estimated at about $310 million per year.

He said that 1,894 people died on the roads last year, a slight drop from 1,905 in 2011.

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