Sunday,2007-09-02: Survival Priorities for Road Traffic
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 523
The Mirror has not often continued to treat the same issue again in two continuing weeks in our editorial considerations. But this time I will do. The last editorial headline said “In Three Days, 9 People Died and 17 Were Injured in Traffic Accidents in Phnom Penh.” I was almost one of the persons to be counted this week. So I take this case up again, as the new traffic law is to be enforced as of 1 September 2007.
But which will be the criteria and priorities to be followed when this complex task is being taken up?
First of all, it is remarkable that a mixed coalition of concerned citizens are raising their voice and point to a serious problem: a law is to be applied which actually cannot be adhered to, for very clear practical reasons: there were more than 450,000 motorcycles registered – how could now, all of a sudden, all drivers get trained in the traffic rules and get licensed?
This points to a wider, fundamental problem: if there are laws – supposedly to be enforced, as is the nature of the law – which are regularly considered as not really to be followed, or even disregarded, because they are too far away from reality. This will only undermine the respect for laws in general.
It is obviously a grave oversight in the preparation of the new law on land traffic that it does not deal with the steps and the timing towards final full implementation. The new law is creating a space where the new law will not be implemented, because it cannot be implemented. There is no way to train a great number of the drivers of the more than 450,000 registered motorcycles in an instant. But the law says that the law is to be respected now.
That is why the very practical suggestions proposed by concerned citizens merit serious attention by the legislative and the law enforcement authorities: to publicize not only the fact, but the major content of the law widely – to create a countrywide network of trained trainers – and to suspend the penalty regulations of the new law for a sufficiently long and realistic transitory period.
Just as a side consideration: We have, during the current week, a series of items reported from the conference of Ministers of Information and Telecommunication Technology of the ten ASEAN countries plus the ASEAN partners China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea – and they decided a number of important plans for the future, which will have a deep impact on the life of many citizens: the promotion of rural telecommunications according to ASEAN plans; the study in cooperation with China on the Greater Mekong Sub-Region Project of a regional Super Highway; the development of new telecommunication legislation, including for radio frequency legislation, with the assistance of experts from Japan; and the cooperation with Korea on information and communication policies and the use of specific applications, including for rural development.
Will there also be concerned citizens groups – like in the case of the traffic law – who will accompany such new developments, which will have a deep impact on the allocation of public funds, on strategies for rural development and international transport, and on the future of radio and TV communication in Cambodia, because the technology of frequency control has its political implications for the allocation of frequencies for the broadcasting media – government, private business, and, as in many other countries, local citizens radio.
But to come back to the traffic law. It is reported that “citizens complain about being obliged to learn for motorcycle driving licenses.” This is not surprising, as there is the widespread assumption that such learning is related to how to drive technically – and drivers know how to do this. That may drivers of motorbikes do not see this – first of all – as a challenge to learn traffic rules for all, is no surprise. They see what many cars do, which belong to a higher in society. Many of them do not show at all that their drivers follow any rules applicable for all.
I use a motorcycle-taxi – a “moto” – every day on Street 51. The moto driver and I were almost killed, when a big dark Landcruiser without license plates, but with a driver in uniform, almost knocked us over, high speed, disregarding the STOP sign on a road crossing Street 51 from where he came.
Road traffic in Phnom Penh is chaotic. And dangerous. If the authorities – government ministries, the military, the police – would first of all care to keep all unidentifiable vehicles without license plates off the road, and then would impose strict rules on the drivers of vehicles of the authorities, to observe the traffic rules – no driving on the wrong side of the road, no speeding and over-taking on the wrong side of the road, and similar, most basic procedures – the drivers of motos and of other vehicles would have models of correct procedures to follow.
This would probably reduce the number of traffic accidents victims drastically, much more than the threat announced, to jail police according to Article 72 of the new traffic law, in case they fine somebody not in accordance to the new law.