Police Crack Down on Free-Wheeling Motorists

Nem Nim didn’t know what the crosswalk on Norodom Boul­evard meant, and he was stopped for his lack of knowledge last week after blithely sailing through the painted lines.

“What is (a crosswalk) used for?” he asked a traffic monitor.

“It is for pedestrians to get across to the other side of the road,” the monitor admonished him. “Here is where you stop. That is the line for people walking.”

Nem Nim was not the only one to be scolded last week.

During peak lunchtime hours, 30 people were posted at the intersection of Norodom and Street 154 to enforce  traffic laws. That included stopping at the painted crosswalks, an idea that struck some drivers as completely novel.

Others admitted they knew what the lines meant, and usually stop, but they just happened to get caught this one time.

“I do know [the law] and I re­spect it, but at this moment I stopped over the line accidentally,” said Chou Peng, 34, a mototaxi driver.

The attempt to restore order to what has increasingly become traffic chaos in Phnom Penh. It  is part of an ambitious $25,000 effort, paid for by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and carried out by schoolchildren, teachers, police and the city’s Public Works Department.

One recent study revealed the number of vehicles in Asian cities has increased 600 percent the past 20 years, and will double again by 2030. The beeping mixture of vehicles on many Cambodian roads, from overloaded trucks and cars to motorcycles, bicycles, ox carts and the occasional elephant, creates dangerous conditions, especially when drivers are impatient.

Traffic experts want Cam­bodians to change such freewheeling habits as driving against traffic, refusing to stop for pedestrians or traffic signals, ignoring road markings and driving drunk or without a license. To that end, they designed a five-day campaign including posters and stickers; ads in newspapers, on radio and TV; banners and slogan-bearing hats for children to wear.

All last week, the Norodom intersection was staffed every midday by eight traffic police officers, 12 schoolchildren, four teachers, two supervisors and two consultants.

Across town at Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 163 near Olympic Stadium, traffic police stopped offenders and issued warnings. Some reports were encouraging. Nabeshima Yasuo, traffic plan manager for JICA, was watching the Sihanouk Boul­evard intersection, normally a challenge for even the most athletic pedestrian.“You can see, at this mo­ment, this corner looks like it is not in Cambodia,” he said last week. “It does not take too long to change bad behavior,” he said.

Leav Srei Minh, 11, was certainly getting the message. The Norodom Primary School student, was a volunteer traffic monitor on Norodom Boulevard. She said she hopes her efforts will reduce the number of accidents in the city.

“When I grow up, I will respect the traffic laws every time I drive,” she said solemnly.

Khem Sam Ath, chief of intervention for the traffic police, compared regulating Phnom Penh traffic to pulling fast-growing plants from a clogged waterway.

“While we are here, they are driving smoothly, but after we [leave] they abuse the law again,” he said.



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