Sunday,2007-08-26: “In Three Days, 9 People Died and 17 Were Injured in Traffic Accidents in Phnom Penh”
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 522
We did not try to find out if these figures are observed often, or if these were exceptionally bad days. Every accident is one accident too much. But it had been reported repeatedly that the number of road accidents in Cambodia has been always fairly high, considering the number of vehicles in the country compared to the total number of the population. To reduce the number of accidents, “in which a great number of people are killed and injured each year,” was the goal when, already in the middle of 2006, the National Assembly adopted a new traffic law, and the King signed it half a year ago, so that it could be put into operation. There was, obviously, a six months transitory period agreed, before the enforcement was to start.
It is reported that during this interim period, there was no improvement. That means: the number of people killed or wounded did not decrease. They were sacrificed in order to achieve a smooth transition to the new law. It is surprising, however, that the press reports, which we mirror, make hardly any attempt to analyze in detail the reasons for the present problems, and therefore they also do not identify priority areas of action.
The new law comes with several special assumptions, expectations, and fears:
1. “The new traffic law is likely to be stricter than the old one”
This should not be a surprise, given the often chaotic situation on the roads – in overcrowded city traffic like in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, or on long distance roads which allow dangerous high speed traffic
2. “Motorcycle and Remorque Drivers Are Called to Learn to Drive Free of Charge in Order to Get Driving Licenses”
When one observes the reports about accidents and their victims, it seems that such education – important as it is – is a drivers’ education mainly for victims. Many accidents are caused by trucks and other big, speedier vehicles. There is no report that – for example – drivers of big military or government vehicles, often seen to drive fast and doing risky high speed maneuvers on the wrong side of the road, speeding ahead of others. Do these drivers have licenses?
3. “There Will Be Big Corruption in Implementation of the New Traffic Law”
It is a sign of a bad social climate, that a new attempt at regulating street traffic and at reducing the number of victims is, even before it starts, meeting with the assumption that this will be another field of exercise for corrupt actions.
4. “Municipality Announces that if People Are Asked for More than Riel 28,200 for Issuing Motorcycle Driving Licenses, They Should Take Legal Action”
But such fears of corruption, expressed in a newspaper, is obviously not far fetched: even the Municipality seems to assume that the public servants, in charge of implementing the new regulations, may try to request more money when the people come to pay for the services of the administration. What kind of self-understanding of the municipal administration is expressed in this advice to the public? What is the municipal administration doing, in order to eradicate such general practices of extortion, committed by persons in the administration, and stealing from the ordinary people?
5. “Traffic Police Officials Will Get One Month’s Imprisonment and Will Be Fined Riel 200,000 if They Act Improperly”
The last example we quote from this week’s papers puts a major burden for the success of the changes to be brought about by the new law on the traffic police. Observing Phnom Penh traffic every day since many years, mostly on the back seat of a moto-taxi or as a pedestrian, I cannot yet imagine how the traffic police will and can act differently from what can be observed now regularly, and what I have observed myself:
- New luxury cars without license plates – if they create an accident and they speed away, nobody can identify them – pass regularly in front of the traffic police without being intercepted, while several police talk down on people – judging from their clothes probably people from the countryside or young women – who came on small motorbikes.
- Government vehicles are supposed to be used for official duty; will traffic police be able to stop and report a big Landcruiser with a military number plate on a weekend, in which half a dozen beautifully dressed young ladies are being transported somewhere?
Last week, we reported the surprising statement of the Prime Minister, that action against corruption can be conducted “if we are willing” even without an anti-corruption law. Not the absence or existence of the law is decisive, but the will to act.
Surely the new traffic law brings many improvements – on the legal level – but whether the number of accidents will decrease or not will depend to a large degree on the attitude and behavior of the stronger participant in road travel: not on the moto-drivers, but on the drivers of the heavy and the fast vehicles with public license plates: the military, the police, and the state. If their behavior is a model of adherence to the law, and if more and more big vehicles will have an inscription on their back end, saying (often in Khmer and in English), things will improve:
“How is my driving? Report any problems to the following telephone number: [and a number is given].”
Nowadays, police may be afraid to report a “powerful vehicle” belonging to a “powerful institution.” Without a change in this power game, it is difficult to see how the necessary improvement of road traffic in Cambodia can be achieved, and how it will work.