Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Safety during holidays

Traffic accidents kill 23, hurt 117 during festival

That's the title of a short article in today's (Thursday, September 28 2006) Cambodian Daily. This is the tally of 3 days. Last year's tally (in deaths) was just 8. A now cleary presumptious article in the same daily last week metioned that the death tally would be probably be lower and the police started slapping themselves on the back. Too soon.

Does the nearly, triple as high rate, then imply that the police are not doing their work? Or does it mean that in spite of the increased effort by traffic authorities the problems are simply too big/complex. Last week the police mentioned a crack down on overloaded vehicles. Today's article adds to this:

  • drivers had no mutual understanding

  • rich people driving luxury vehicles forced other cars off the road

  • drivers drove fast

  • no respect of traffic rules (which don't even exist).

What are the prospects for next year?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Safety issues

A number of articles in the Cambodian Daily over the past few days have focused on safety. In today’s (September 25, 2006) Letter to the Editor, a reader complains about ferry safety: he points out that ferries lack safety devices such as lifejackets and/or life buoys. How important this is, was illustrated by an incident off the coast last week when a local boat sank and seven people drowned despite being just 100m off-land.

Other modes of public transport are often not in better shape. Buses do not tend to be safety first vehicles; using Cambodian roads are dangerous enough without emphasizing Cambodian roads fair share of inexperienced and carefree drivers combined with the fact that many vehicles (incl. buses) have the steering wheel on the wrong side and lack maintenance and the poor condition of the roads themselves. In a recent blog posting (24 September 2006) the author describes how the bus he was traveling broke its axle just a minute after leaving. Crossing Cambodia has also reported other accidents involving buses.

The next step down in the public transport are minivans which, oddly enough, provide long haul travel. They are often over packed (see photo’s elsewhere):passengers up front and on top; freight in the back or on top. Last week Thursday’s Cambodian Daily (21 September 2006) reported an incident in one of the western provinces where one passenger died and various injured when their mini van hit an overhead pole. They had been ‘seated’ on top of the van.

For local transport there is the ‘remorque’ : a motorcycle with a big trailer behind. Remorque is French for to tow. This type of vehicle must be very Cambodian, there is definitely no Wiki page available on this. What’s more, if the draft version of the traffic law is accepted the remorque will probably cease to exist. The towed trailer is a bit deep and loose planks are laid from side to side which are meant as the seats. Often these are over loaded, 20-30 passengers is no problem. A major safety issue is that the trailer can easily cause the motorcycle front wheel to make a wheelie and thus steeringless. Luckything is that these motorcycles can’t drive fast.

Further down the list of public travel options are long/short haul taxi’s which are packed toi the brim (4 peopleon the two front seats). Last week I saw one with two persons in baggage boot. The boot lid was up and each sat on a side of the car holding the lid.

What they have in common is that they are all highly dangerous vehicles.

But having your own vehicle is not always a guanrantee for safety. In the police blotter from the Phnom Penh Post (Sept 21- October 5), 4 of the 17 articles mention motocycles being stolen at gun-point/knife point! Three of the four cases the victim was shot or stabbed, the other case one of the robbers was shot by a ‘anonymous’ who then stole the robbers’ motorcycle!

Today’s blog seems to be loosing the point. The Cambodian Daily again of 25 September 2006 reports less accidents during the past Pchum Ben holidays. Six dead. The article goes on then that the decrease is due to police vigilance: ‘we do not allow taxis to be overloaded’ at least in Kampong Cham. Crossing Cambodia’s observation seemed quite contradictory to that statement, but the experience related to different provinces. But is safety a real issue?

Crossing Cambodia has been trying to is to put what’s happening on Cambodian roads into perspective. In May 2006 a meeting was held in Bangkok, hosted by the UNESCAP(United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) Secretariat. A ‘Status of Road Safety in Asia was presented. One highlight of the report was the actual lack of details/data. Apparently in most Asian countries data on safety issues are deemed not important. In spite of this I have tried to give an overview of the Cambodian situation vis-à-vis its (selected) neighbors. In the overview Crossing Cambodia shows that Cambodia has relatively fewer vehicles but that the fatality rate is high and its effect to the economy is much higher than those of other countries, actually in that last comparison, Cambodia is the most affected country in Asia! Some doubt exist over the data though: in some countries the number of fatalities are higher than those injured!

Safety issues:


Vehicles per
1000 inhabitants

% 2/3 wheelers
(of total)


Fatalities per
10,000 vehicles


Estimated loss to GDP















































But clearly the scope for improvement is needed, most incidents occurring needn’t. Even with new laws the drop may not occur. Firstly there is the case that police enforcement is unsure, secondly the number of vehicles being registered is growing very fast so even new law and enforcement would only result in a smaller growth of unsafetiness.

Traffic Law will crack down on ...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Holiday season II

Holiday season

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Letters to the editor: rediscover walking

From today's (September 14, 2006) Cambodian Daily an extensive letter to the editor. The wirter is calling upon 'the law' to start regulating the illegal use of sidewalks, so pedestrians can use them. Part of the solution would be new parking area's and bridges and tunnels to assist the traffic flow. The author concludes by calling on authorities to be decisive and stop taking illegal payments.

Traffic law will crack down on....

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Traffic Extortion Hotline

It seems the Phnom Penh Municipality is going high-tech. It is launching a traffic extortion hotline according to an article on KI Media, which is a copy of today's (September 12, 2006) Cambodia Dialy article.
In the absence of a clear law and order situation the municipal police have been conducting night time roadblocks to find offenders of mostly administrative offences, i.e. driving without license plates and failure to prove payment of import duties. The offenders' vehicles are impounded and fines need to be paid of between US$50 and US$200. Despite the clarity regarding the offences (where in the world are you allowed to drive without license plate?) and the fact that the police are policing (for a change), the level of fines seems to be the main sticking point. Are the fines extortion?
There is of course no law backing these fines and, as such, probably the (unofficial) proceeds fail to flow upwards. But now, the municipal police's overseers are cracking down on this practice despite the police pointing out that due to the night time checks crime rates had dropped.

Separately, there seems to be more and more questions raised concerning policing the new traffic law once it get's passed. Possibly, there might be too many issues rendering enforcing these useless and as such the law might become useless as well. A step-by-step approach?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Letter's to the editor: accidental payment

A slightly irritated Bob from Phnom Penh writes a letter in today's (September 11, 2006) Cambodian Daily on the report of last week's accident. He highlights that private arrangements between victims are commonplace and that if these private arrangements fulfill everyones satisfaction, the police do not continue to persue justice. In short he deplore's this. Why?
Such private arrangements are mostly to the benefit of the rich, as there are no traffic laws it's difficult to find out who was right, who was wrong. The police tend to favour the rich, just to be on the safe side. Another factor is the ability of the rich to drum up 'support' not only to counter any claim, but to counter claim; they cause the accident and get money from the victim. This is all condoned by the police who prefer peace to justice. The result is that such a peace is 'paid' by the less advantaged. Only in the accident reported last week , an accident whereby there was just 1 vehicle, are the rich(er) forced to pay out.

Traffic law will crack down on ....


Tik-tuk drivers are angry (Final part?)

Last weeks unrest has been resolved. The prime minister has decreed that tuk-tuks and taxi's can continue their business as before....


On the Khmer 440 site a link to a thread on bus accidents. The accompanying photo comes from this site. Apparently a Mekong Expres bus hits a car and ends up along the road side. No casualities. Possibly the bus had the steering wheel on the wrong side....

Friday, September 08, 2006

Walking the line

As today's Phnom Penh Post has yet to hit the newsstands, Khmer Intelligence are already publishing a copied story complete on their web-site. Possibly Phnom Penh Post have less copyright issues. Anyway, the extensive article draws attention to the upcoming proposed traffic law. The Cambodian parliament is currently in session again and are busying themselves with amongst others, a law which criminalizes unfaithfull husbands/wifes. The corruption bill however, which has been in the pipeline for 10 years and has been demanded for years as a (pre-)condition for receiving aid from the nations silly enough to extend finance to the current government, still has not even been proposed let alone passed. Priorities, priorities.

Prison awaits drivers who defy draft traffic law

By Vong SokhengPhnom Penh Post, Issue 15 / 18, September 8 - 20, 2006

The government has drafted a new Land Traffic Law with draconian penalties that, if enforced, could radically alter Cambodia's anarchic road behavior, reduce the country's huge road-death toll - and perhaps have prisons and state coffers overflowing.

The draft law specifies that:
all car drivers and motorbike drivers must have valid driving licenses and vehicle licenses;
car drivers and their passengers must wear safety belts;
motorcyclists and their passengers must wear helmets;
vehicles must not carry passengers for whom there are no seats;
driving drunk is forbidden.
The law provides for imprisonment for up to three years and fines of several million riel for some offenses.

Chum Iek, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) told the Post on August 30 that he will send the draft Land Traffic Law to the National Assembly this month after the Ministry of Justice has examined the proposed penalties.

"We don't want car drivers, motorbike riders or the traffic police to be ignorant of the law and create anarchy in the streets," Iek said. "This has caused Cambodia have highest road accident rate of any country in the ten member ASEAN (Association of SouthEast Asia Nations)".

He said the standards foreshadowed in the draft law are similar to those of other ASEAN countries in the requirements for traffic signs, traffic lights, speed limits, right of way, standard of road manners, and penalties.

"Many drivers have ignored the traffic law and caused [the country] to have the highest road rate accident [in ASEAN], therefore we should have a strict law that can help to reduce road accidents," Iek said.

"We know that when the law is passed by the National Assembly and enforced it will affect many people, especially taxi drivers or remorques [long trailers pulled by motorbikes]."

He said traffic police would have a lot of work to do to stop anarchy on the roads in order to save the lives of people and animals, and to protect the environment. People who broke the law would be imprisoned.

The draft law has 87 articles. It has been reviewed by the standing committee of the National Assembly, and a two-day workshop in August sought feedback from civil society.

Pea Kim Vong, Land Route Assistant to Handicap International, told the Post on September 4 that Handicap International has been involved in a traffic law education campaign since 2002, and has found that many people don't understand traffic laws because many motorbike drivers don't have driving licenses.

Vong said the existing traffic law is inadequate and has not been enforced.

He said the number of people suffering from accidents in Cambodia has increased by 3 percent each year.

He said that in 2005 on average three people were killed on roads every day, but in the first six months of 2006 this had increased to four deaths daily. The figures come from road accident statistics compiled from public hospitals, traffic police and the Ministry of Interior and audited by Handicap International.

He said 1,784 road accidents were reported in 2004 and this increased to 2,035 in 2005.

Vong said it had been estimated road accidents cost the Cambodian economy $116 million a year.

"We found that many Cambodian people do not understand the traffic law, the law is not enforced and people have no respect for it," Vong said.

Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said there were many causes of road accidents: many roads lacked traffic signs, many cars were right-hand-drive and unfit for Cambodia's roads, and amoral powerful people did not respect speed limits.

Bad cops as well as bad drivers face heavy penalties. Article 68 of the new draft law says that traffic police and other agents in charge of traffic who use their position to illegally confiscate driving licenses, number plates, or ownership licenses, or to impound vehicles, shall be jailed for between six days and one month or be fined 25,000 to 200,000 riel.

If a vehicle is damaged or stolen while detained by traffic police, those responsible must pay the cost.

Officials who extort or levy illegal fines, receive money without receipt or give fraudulent receipts shall be imprisoned for from one to three years or fined between two million and four million riel.

The draft law says a person who drives when his or her license has expired or has been suspended shall be jailed for between six days and one month or fined between 25,000 and 200,000 riel.

A driver who operates a vehicle using a number plate, driving license or ownership license knowing it to be fraudulent shall be jailed for between one year and three years or fined between two million and six million riel.

Those who forge fraudulent documents for driving shall be jailed for between five and 10 years.

A driver found to have drunk alcohol over the legal limit shall be jailed for between six days and six months or be fined between 25,000 and one million riel.

The draft law says there will be different categories of driving licenses and the driving licenses must be issued by the MPWT. Driving licenses will require an eye check, which must be reviewed every three or five years, depending on the category of driving license.

Keo Savin, the MPWT's Deputy Director of Land Transport in charge of traffic law education and licensing could not be reached for comment.

  • All know why the situation is as it is, lack of enforcement. Currently you can easily drive through a red light because the police are not going to fine you if they are nowhere to be seen. Again, police are reluctant to enforce the law if the person they are questioning is ranked higher in the social ladder. Due to the lack of law, and abundance of weapons richer peolpe tend to take the law into their own hands, so as a simple policeman you do not mess with these offenders. So great law, but let's wait and see whether it achieves anything. Continuing on this line, the Malaysian authorities are suggesting to give a discount on fines imposed. A recent news item from the BBC mentioned that 'all but five top-poiticians recently appeared on a list of non-payers with 1 minister having hundreds of unpaid tickets going back to 1999'. So if a law abiding country such as Malaysia (take the case of the Pussycat Dolls or the PM paying his 11 outstanding traffic fines) is having problems with enforcement especially of priviliged persons, how will Cambodia cope?
  • What will happen to those on the receiving end? The taxi-drivers, remorques, moto's (would the latter need to carry 4 helmets with them?). How to assure if someone is drunk? walk the (non-existent)line?

Tuk-tuk drivers are angry (Rule and Law Part II)

The link to yesterdays story.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tuk-tuk drivers are angry (Rule and Law Part II)

Again from the Cambodian Daily (no link provided), a story on revenue collection in Angkor Wat. Apparently, things are getting worse: the aforementioned newspaper heads ' 200 Tuk-Tuks force way into Angkor Park'. What they mean, is that the tuk-tuk drivers (surely the tuk-tuks themselves can not be doing the violence a la Herbie) are taking the law in to their own hands and have apparently wrecked the gates which were there to, ...well..., line the pockets of someone or another eventually. A 'solution' will be announced tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The tuk-tuk

Another quintessential element on Cambodian roads is the tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuks are essentially 3-wheel motorized taxi's, found mostly on Asian roads as an improvement of the non-motorized rickshaws. Some enterprising personalities have started up a Wikipedia page on this Asian phenomenon. also delves into the tuk-tuk theme. Apparently there's even a book entitled 'Temples and tuk-tuks', though it seems the tuk-tuk was chosen as it is a word starting with a t. One surprising factor underlying the existence of the tuk-tuk are the many forms in which they reveal themselves. Each form is often relevant to just a part of the country or confined within 1 country.

Oddly enough, Cambodian's local version looks more like a chariot without the horse in front. Instead there's a non-descript motorcycle which pulls the two wheeled cart, everything connected to a knob on the motorcycle. The driver is of course on the motorcycle, the chariot has two facing sofa seats. This allows for roughly 4 passengers and that also seems to be the limitfor the motorcycle, more people slows the contraption down substantially. This probably explains why the locals shun tuk-tuks as if you get a contaigous disease from sitting in them! Cambodia's public transport rule number 1 is: if it fits, it must be ok. Taxi's with 10 paying passengers (two sitting on the same seat as the driver), pick-ups with 70 (rough estimate) buses with complete mid-size cities in them... But in the tuk-tuk you can easily put 10-15 passengers but the motor is not upto it. So the tuk-tuk service is mainly geared to the foreign market.

What more can be added? Well possessing a tuk-tuk is the pipe dream of every moto-driver. But the qualifications are high. You need to be a character, speak fluent English, probably be well off and know your way around town, the latter qualification proving to be stumbling block for most moto's.

Tuk-tuk's are reasonably comfortable, a bit slow and come with custom made raincoats. The backseat is used for various advertisements, smart and savvy thinking there.

I've tried looking up web-sites on Cambodian tuk-tuks, non-existent! Stickman ,though, from Thailand observes:
Why not a tuk-tuk? Because they're not the same as in Thailand. Tuktuks are merely a four seat tuk-tuk styled trailer that gets towed behind a motorsai (he means a moto!) and appear to be by far the most popular form of transportation among tourists. During the dark hours I noticed that only about one in ten of these tuk-tuks had working tail lights and was actually worried we'd run up the back of one filled with tourists. I asked Mr. Phansey about this and he went into some interesting tales about tuktuks in Cambodia. The most popular theme is when the yoke breaks off from the duct taped on seat mount and the tourists go flying onto the cement. Supposedly it happened rather badly the day before I arrived and two men ended up with severe head injuries. Wheels also fly off he claims (I believe this, ride behind one and watch them wobble around) causing less serious injuries.

Stickman is either very imaginative or has been on a roll back then, because the tuk-tuk phenomena he describes are not common, though Crossing Cambodia certainly does not rule out this happening.

After this insight there's not much to add to the tuk-tuk story. But let me tell you that the Cambodian tuk-tuk is slowly evolving, there are many different forms, so many that the typical Cambodian tuk-tuk has not been photographed by Crossing Cambodia, so I freely 'lend' someone else's.

Accidents happening (yawn)

The third reported accident in a week. Cambodia Daily seems to be starting a campaign to protect their copyrights, good for them. I suppose other media will now less frequently refer to their otherwise excellent reporting. Anyroads, the accident resulted in 1 death, 17 injuries. The context. A pick up overturns on Satarday in Kandal province. What's remarkable: it had seventy (a seven and a zero) passengers!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Rule of Law and Authorities

As stressed one aspect of Cambodian traffic that never seems to bore anyone is the lawlessness. On one occasion (May day) did Crossing Cambodia draw to your attention that avoiding the creation of traffic jams is high on the agenda of the Phnom Penh govenor. Yesterday the same govenor (Kep Chuktema) impounded a small truck as it was preparing to be used as part of an anti-corruption drive. The authorities responded using the phrase (from today's Cambodian Daily Tuesday 5 September 2006):
'rejected CCHR's (organizer) request to stage the event on the grounds that it could create traffic jams'.

So on the one hand Cambodia has no traffic laws on the other hand there is enough common sense with the authorities to know what is right or wrong. So, why, Crossing Cambodia asks, is this common sense not the major motivation in sorting the traffic out so as to be less dangerous?

Parking Problems in the Province

Today two links to a story from Siem Reap (240 km from Phnom penh), site of the Angkor Wat. As the Khmer government prefers to work with friendly investors, they are gradually privatizing the country's heritage. A friendly investor with good connections (he is actually part of the government) collects entrance fees for this ancient site, but to improve the revenue stream to the government new more innovative schemes have to be thought out... (1 ideawas to rent out slippers, them being compulsory for visitors). Part of that is to introduce electric powered vehicles which, while environmentally friendly, should compete with the anarchists locally known as tuk-tuk, moto and taxi drivers. And the government are justified! The Cambodian Daily (via Details are Sketchy) mentions that 'Around 200 angry tuk-tuk drivers blocked the entrance' .The Associated Press (via Khmer Intelligence) mentions 'About 300 taxi drivers angrily protested' Monday (September 4). However the investor (did I say he/she is Chinese?) is having problems with his return so the government are assisting in his battle with local tourist touts and have moved the park space for those not assisting the government in generating revenue 500m's. The authorities also insist that parking fees be paid! (to whom?). The Cambodian Daily in its never ending search to give all and sundry to the opportunity to view their standpoint finalizes their article with:
"Officials at the Apsara Authority could not be immediately reached for comment."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Accidents happening II

Yesterday's Cambodian Daily (August 31, 2006) again mentioned an accident. Not the weird type, but the serious accident with the result of 3 deaths and a multitude wounded after a truck or pick up's tyre burst, sending the vehicle into flips or spins. Should Crossing Cambodia continue reporting these accidents such as this one yesterday in Battambang? Should this blog evolve into a typical Southeast Asian newspaper, the front pages packed with accident reports including photo's of the deceased /heavily wounded? Amazing thing is that this type of reporting obviuosly doesn't deter poor driving or increased safety. Many victims could have survived where they not speeding, not drunken or having a helmet, but they seem to be the unlucky ones...
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