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?