Handicap International Belgium (H.I.), an NGO that assists disabled people in developing nations, said Wednesday that the failure of police to enforce traffic laws since before the national election in July has reversed its efforts to improve road safety.
H.I.’s road safety program, launched in 2004, has seen helmet use in Phnom Penh rise from 7 percent of motorcycle drivers in 2004 to 74 percent this year. That figure is now sliding, the organization said.
“For years, we have tried to push the government and police to strengthen enforcement of traffic laws day and night,” said Ear Chariya, director of Handicap’s International road safety program.
“We were having a positive result, but this is one great step backwards…. Helmet use is decreasing again and it is a direct result of the lack of enforcement,” he said.
In the lead-up to July’s election, traffic police were ordered to stop enforcing traffic laws, as election campaigning took to the streets in the form of motorized rallies.
Data collected by H.I. from Phnom Penh and Kandal, Kompong Speu, Kompong Cham and Siem Reap provinces shows that helmet use decreased from 63 percent in May to 47 percent in November.
Mr. Chariya said Wednesday that in the case of road accidents, a helmet could be the difference between life and death.
“Studies show that wearing a helmet can prevent crash fatalities by around 40 percent, and prevent serious head injuries by 70 percent,” he said.
Phnom Penh traffic police have recently resumed enforcing laws and this week police on Monivong and Sothearos boulevards were seen stopping drivers without crash helmets.
Preap Chanvibol, director of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation’s land transportation department, said that the non-enforcement of the law was due to the current political situation. He referred further questions to Phnom Penh traffic police chief Chev Hak, who declined to comment.
One traffic police officer, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Wednesday that he was relieved that he could once again enforce the traffic law by imposing informal fines, or bribes, on the people he pulled over.
“I am very happy because before, I had to pay for my own gasoline, my own lunch, pay for everything,” he said of the months he was unable to earn money from those who infringed traffic law.
“And you know, my salary is not enough to pay for everything and look after my family.”