Crossing Cambodia

Monday, June 19, 2006

2. Rules and regulations - 2.1 Driving direction

Tackling the issue head-on, against the grain on Norodom

Part of the evolution of increasing mobility has been the need for agreement on rules. Probably, society decided early on in the evolution process which side of the road to drive on. In most countries this was the right side. This also applies for Cambodia. But in all truth, in Cambodia it’s not a rule set in stone, rather a tendency. Most Cambodians prefer not to be standing still. A result of this is that a driver approaching a busy intersection and wanting to turn left; he/she will move to the left hand of the road, take the turn and continue on the left hand until an opening occurs in the on-coming traffic allowing for the vehicle to cross to the right side.
Obviously this has certain advantages, especially for two wheelers who see no need to slow-down, let alone stop / give way. Because the oncoming traffic is used to this practice, two wheelers who plan two left turns, simply stay on the wrong side: less distance to cover, no need to stop. The next step in this evolution of driving practices is for two-wheelers to drive down a one-way street opposite the legal driving condition, but that’s an aspect Crossing Cambodia will cover in future.
So, why in the wider world is driving on the wrong side frowned on? Obviously it’s dangerous, careering around intersections on the wrong side without knowing what’s coming head-on. Pedestrians and other traffic users willing to cross the road have to pay extra attention to traffic coming from both directions. Oncoming traffic has to give way, without traffic behind them giving them space.

Another aspect Crossing Cambodia will ponder is the position of the steering wheel in cars. Cambodia’s roads (or actually the roads of Phnom Penh) are brimming with second hand cars from many other wealthier Asian countries. Good idea, using the cast-offs of others. But there are a considerable percent of cars (possibly 10%?) imported from Thailand with the steering wheels on the wrong side. Officially these are illegal or were as Cambodian authorities are becoming more lenient on left-hand drive cars. Under the pretext of collecting more (road) taxes, the previous illegal cars are now allowed to carry a license plate. The same authorities see this as more important than having drivers who for instance when overtaking can quickly oversee on-coming traffic to see whether the manoeuvre can be safely executed. But safety of Cambodian roads is not perceived to be a core task of the Cambodian government.
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