Lawmakers may be attempting to run the country inside the new National Assembly, but right outside the building, the children of high-ranking officials show little sign of being governable.
Each weekend beginning Friday afternoon, groups of young men meet at the wide stretch of road near the Assembly on Sisowath Quay to race their Hummers, Lexuses, Toyota Camrys and Cadillac Escalades, doing screeching handbrake turns at the top of the road before hurtling back down again.
Music blaring, and three or four youths in each car, they rarely look over 18, according to a security guard at the Assembly, who said several of the SUVs carry license plates signifying they are owned by RCAF officials.
“Vroom! They whiz past us here,” said guard Heap Ny. “They don’t care about the danger.”
Six to eight cars race at a time up and down the road, he said.
“The police come now and again but they ignore them,” he added.
On Wednesday evening police arrested the 19-year-old son of a high-ranking official on Sisowath Quay near Hun Sen Park. He had been speeding in his Chrysler jeep. He was also allegedly involved in an earlier incident in which he drove past a Phnom Penh restaurant frequented by reporters, blaring threats into a megaphone against one of the journalists inside who had done a report on him.
Police would neither reveal the youth’s name nor identify his father.
The youth was freed just two hours later after his parents signed an agreement on his behalf that he would stop racing his car and using a megaphone to intimidate a member of the media, police said.
Such teenagers are causing anarchy on Phnom Penh’s streets, municipal police chief Touch Naruth said Thursday.
“First we reeducate them and if they ignore it we will send them to court,” he said.
“[Car racing] is not a problem with youth generally,” said Him Yun, vice president of the Khmer Youth Association.
“These are the children of high-ranking officials,” he said. “Like their parents, they want to compete and show their power. They don’t care how it affects the public.”
Agreeing that the street racing tended to be the sport of children of the powerful, Chaktomuk commune police chief Chea Vuthy said it was partially because there are few things for the children of the rich to do.
Meas Chandy, road safety officer for Handicap International, said it was vital that police arrest those breaking the city’s speed limits in order to save lives.
Speeding remains the number one cause of deaths on Cambodia’s roads, and Meas Chandy said that such racing was certainly “the kind of behavior that would lead to more accidents.”
Wednesday night’s brief arrest of the 19-year-old, whose name the police did not reveal, is just the latest in a string of incidents involving children of senior government officials and their high-speed cars.
In August 2006, three concrete posts at Wat Phnom were damaged when a Lexus SUV carrying the son of RCAF General Kao Try crashed at high speed.
In December 2005, Nom Sinit, the son of a high-ranking RCAF official crashed into the sacred Buddhist memorial opposite the railway station after racing with another car at speeds of up to 150 km per hour, according to witnesses.
No charges were made and the vehicle was returned to the driver.
A son of RCAF Brigadier General Sek Seng crashed his car into the front wall of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs building on Sisowath Quay in November 2005, while racing against the son of a top-ranking Interior Ministry official.
In May of the same year, the 23-year-old son of a Ministry of Defense official killed three people while drunk driving on the Japanese Friendship bridge.
In May 2004, Det Veasna, a well-known local personality, was killed when a speeding car driven by the son of another RCAF general swerved a high speed onto the pavement and slammed into a shopfront on Sisowath Quay’s busy restaurant and bar strip.