I love Cambodia and its culture. My wife and children are Cambodian/Australians, we enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, cherish constant warm weather, eat beautiful fresh food from the markets each day and are lucky to be presented with numerous business opportunities that give us sustainable financial stability.
However there is one aspect of Cambodia that I don’t like – its lack of road safety.
The lack of road safety has seen a dramatic increase in the number of serious collisions on the roads and unacceptable levels of serious injury and fatalities. I have become so concerned that I now ask my wife to limit driving our car with our children on board and I personally try to avoid driving at night or driving on the highways to the provinces with my young family in the car.
Its not because my wife and I are not good safe drivers, it is because there are more road users who are driving in a dangerous and unsafe manner. I’m an experienced and trained car driver. I was trained to drive when I first joined the police force, trained not only on how to drive fast when pursuing offenders but trained to understand the fundamentals of road safety. Basic fundamentals like;
*speed and how it affects breaking distance;
*breaking into corners and the effects of road cambers on steering;
*forward observations & risk prevention;
*road conditions and how they affect vehicle control and visibility;
*and understanding what a motor vehicle can and cant do.
In order for Cambodia to address its rising number of road collisions and fatalities and make it safer for road users, it needs to address some basic issues and ensure that they have a solid strategic plan going forward. Below is my 8-point strategy plan for improving Cambodia’s road safety.
Improve Road Conditions – road conditions in Cambodia are well below the standard needed to provide safe conditions. Improving road conditions is not only limited to improving road surface quality but also improving the direct surroundings. Below are the key areas needing improvement;
*Ensure Roads Don’t Have Pot Holes or Cracked Surfaces – this is all too common especially in Phnom Penh’s streets;
*Ensure roads do not have obstructions along the driving area such as food carts, tuk tuks that park illegally and items placed on the road;
*Ensure roads are wide enough so that vehicles don’t have to merge onto the opposite side of the road – single lane main highways between provinces need to be dual lane;
*Ensure there is sufficient signage making users aware of what is in front of them including speed, road construction and other warning signs;
*Ensure there is sufficient street lighting so users can see other road users and any safety issues. It is very common at night to see no traffic lights operating, street lights turned off and no lighting on street signage.
Implement A Road Maintenance Program – unfortunately Cambodia hasn’t been very effective when it comes to road maintenance. All roads in Cambodia need to be repaired as soon as an issue is identified. Leaving roads to totally deteriorate, requiring a complete road re-surface, is not acceptable.
Implement A Road Worthiness Program – the number of vehicles on Cambodia’s roads that are un-roadworthy and very unsafe is extremely high. All vehicles need to be maintained and remain in a strong roadworthy condition. Its common to see vehicles with no rear brake or indicator lights, crab-walking due to faulty collision repairs, with cracked or no windscreens and generally rusted out and no longer having any structural strength needed to protect passengers in the event of a collision.
Encourage The Use of New Vehicles – Cambodia has a very high tax rate on vehicles, often seeing 100-150% tax placed on the price of a new car. This means that a new or relatively new car is not within reach of low to middle income earners, causing them to purchase cheap vehicles that are old, have been in collisions & inadequately repaired or for many, purchase a vehicle that is right hand drive. Cambodia needs to adopt some dramatic change – adopting a program that sees a huge reduction of tax placed on new vehicles will encourage users to purchase new roadworthy vehicles.
Educate Road Users – education is crucial to improving Cambodia’s road safety. In most cases where a motor-vehicle collision has occurred and resulted in serious injury or death it has occurred as a result of a lack of education and knowledge by the driver of the vehicle and/or other road users that have caused the collision. All road users must learn about the fundamentals of driving a vehicle, must learn about speed and other dangers like overtaking on a bend, following the vehicle in front of you too closely and the dangers of not obeying road laws. All road users must learn and understand road safety.
Educate Law Enforcement – it is pointless trying to improve your road safety if law enforcement officials do not know the law, don’t know the reasons why there is a particular law or don’t understand how to apply the law in practice. It is concerning that the majority of traffic police in Cambodia have not received adequate road safety related training and have never been trained on the fundamental of driving a vehicle.
Enforce Existing Laws – Cambodia needs to start enforcing existing road related laws. Directly related to educating law enforcement authorities, there must be a dramatic increase in enforcement when road users beak the law. Excessive speed, driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, not stopping at red lights, overtaking vehicles on corners are just some of the laws that are being constantly broken and resulting in serious injury and fatalities. Law enforcement officials need to stop allowing road users to go unpunished when blatantly breaking the law in clear view of police.
Stop Rewarding Stupidity – unfortunately Cambodia has encouraged a road culture that rewards stupidity. Simple unwritten rules like ‘the biggest vehicle is always at fault’ or ‘not looking at oncoming traffic when merging’ has meant that collisions have occurred simply because of an act of stupidity. The allowance of road users to constantly act in a stupid carless manner is making driving on the road a very unsafe and dangerous environment.