Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More Concrete

Making life more difficult for those needing to cross Monivong Boulevard. The concrete meridian has been extended meaning for instance that the crossing with street 278 is no more. This was the same crossing as reported in Crossing Cambodia on October 25 2006. Co-incidence?
Let's hope that Monivong will not end as a barrier between the riverside and the other suburb's of Phnom Penh.

Monkeying around

Monkeys in the news. A taxi was apprehended yesterday in Kompong Thom province with more than 60 monkeys on the backseat. Despite that the driver had official papers for the transport , police are researching if the monkeys are being illegally smuggled. The main question would be if in the new traffic law, the taxi was overloaded or not?
What is it with monkeys, Cambodia and traffic? There's the case of a parliamentarian who sent his Orangutan to the vet on the back of the moto supposedly with somebody to provide directions to the moto driver.
Then there's a Chinese road construction company which besides building Cambodia's highways is finding catching monkeys more lucrative.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Vrom Vietnam

Foreigner visitors keeping up with Vietnamese traffic standards in Saigon: no helmets, poor mirrors. Picture was taken in November 2006. Now who do these two remind you of? Not this very responsible dream couple from the States?

So any news from the eastern front? Naturally. To start of with the high co-efficient between Hanoi, professors and accidents. Tragically both the President of Hanoi National University and a visiting professor from M.I.T., USA were hit by motorcycles in Hanoi within a day of each other, the previous month. The first died, the other returned home in a coma. Especially the accident with the American professor is worthwhile to mention that he was at the moment of the accident discussing how to solve Hanoi's traffic problems with a Vietnamese colleague. Crossing Cambodia has two links to these stories, from VOA and from the Taipei Times.

The following refers to various fragments from these articles:
'The accident rate throughout Vietnam is high, and rising. In the first nine months of this year, 9,400 Vietnamese died in accidents - up eight percent over last year.'
Just 8 percent?
'Le Sy Hoang works for Asia Injury:
'You see the accident rate is increasing, and it seems that drunk driving and running the red light happens all the time, without the enforcement of the police," she said. "The doctor who is in charge of head injury in Viet Duc Hospital, it seems they should be most aware of the problem, but still, it seems that 90 percent of the [doctors] there do not wear a helmet.'
So what's different from Cambodia?
'Government statistics show traffic accidents, the leading cause of death in Vietnam, claim about 12,000 lives every year in the country of 84 million. Some international organizations estimate the actual number is twice as high.'
Here, same, same.
'Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City roads teem with speeding motorbikes. Traffic law enforcement is lax. Drivers routinely run red lights and go the wrong way on one-way streets. Very few motorcyclists use helmets and many drivers lack experience, said Greig Craft, president of the Asia Injury Prevention Fund, a nonprofit group that makes low-cost helmets and promotes safe driving.'
"I would call the traffic situation here an absolute crisis," Craft said. "In the West, if you run a red light, it is culturally unacceptable. But here, the young Vietnamese think it's cool." Craft's group has been working for years to persuade Vietnam to make helmets mandatory, which he says would immediately cut traffic deaths by more than 30 percent.
Thirty percent? So government intervention could result in 3,000-4,000 deaths less per year? So why isn't the Vietnamese government enforcing helmet wearing. It reminds me of last weeks Bangkok Post travel section on the new old tourism campaign called Amazing Thailand. The reporter mentioned that it's amazing that in Thailand during the new year holiday period more than 500 people died in 5 days, more than the death rate in Baghdad, at least on some days. And the bombs in Baghdad got more coverage!

Concerning the same article in the Bangkok Post Crossing Cambodia was thinking how it is possible that in Thailand they know the death rate nearly instantaneously and how come in Cambodia they spend nearly a month adding and subtracting?

What is obvious, the eastern wind is blowing in Cambodia. Cambodia does have a lot in common with Vietnam ...

Anyway, on a lighter note, the BBC report that a 2m model of a nappy has been banned because:
'It is light brown, the same colour as the uniforms of Vietnam's traffic police, and the inside of the nappy is made of dozens of pockets - each fastened by a police button.'

Clinton, helmets and Vietnamese kids

Other news: HCM City enjoys public transport. So, can this be replicated in Cambodia or do we prefer the 'ill' winds from the east?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007


The discussion concerning fuel prices seems to drifted over. The opposition can claim success: prices are dropping, though the fuel corporations are not happy.
Little was made of yet another rule: apparently it is forbidden to sell fuel along some of the major streets of Phnom Penh. For safety reasons, apparently fuel sellers are more likely to commit a terrorist act, especially on the ruling elite, who only speed along these streets. Last year garages (and other messy road sites such as welding shops) were told to seek other places to conduct business (using the same argument: potential sites from which terrorists would act). Nothing came of this and the same appears with the last regulation. This morning from Sihanouk Boulevard, a street side fuel seller:

Also observed this morning a police vehicle with the steering wheel on the wrong side!


On the site of the expat oriented Khmer 440 site there has been some debate on traffic, accidents and (the lack of) law enforcement.
The first debate relates to advice on when driving in a taxi and the taxi hits someone and continues and the moral dilemma of being involved but not directly. The discussion sometimes loses track with the entrants focusing on each other rather than the dilemma.
The second debate follows very much in the same vein but starts off by discussing two incidents in which a driver was involved in an accident with mostly material damage and that it's possibly more advisable to do the hit and run rather than stop and end up on the losing end (despite being the safer and correct driver).
Two contributions to these discussions stand out. One relates to a person who stopped after approaching an accident site and assisting the victim only to be accused of been party to the accident. The other to a contribution stating:
'The topic of this thread is just one of the pitfalls of a country growing too fast. Certainly, the government will take better control over these situations as it looks to pass a certain plateau of growth in due time. The country is still being "hardwired" for infrastructure. This lack of infrastructure itself is a barrier for many corporations so the government for the moment has no financial incentives to invest money into a fair and just traffic system.
When the government begins to see (and hear from investing governments) that the lack of law and its enforcement is a major barrier for the next level of their economic growth, it's my opinion that you'll see major changes over night'.
This seems to be a bit unfair. Even in countries such as neighbouring Lao (with a one-party system) and Nepal during the 'open' democracy of the 1990's law enforcement especially concerning traffic regulations was and is enforced. This, despite both countries being equally or even poorer than Cambodia now. The notion that more cash is needed before law enforcement can kick-in seems a bit far-fetched (but supposedly supported by the influential clique governing the country). The current system of lack of lawlessness in all sectors of Cambodia favours the rich and those that have positions to defend rather than those in need of protection be it from unscrupulous land-grabbers, nation-robbing politicians or the well-to-do accident prone and hit-and-run rich. Justice is (in essence) for all, lack of law enforcement bears of the poor.

Traffic Deaths Rising ?

'Traffic Deaths Rising'.
That's todays (25 January 2007) lead on (apparently) the monthly in-depth look at the statistics that the Belgian NGO Handicap collects and the Cambodian Daily dutifully reports to those willing to pay the few riel to buy the local and not-so local news.

In spite of the incorrect lead (let's hope they are referring to the statistics recording more traffic related deaths rather than the those dead rising ...) and the dry content there is some suggestion that despite the new traffic law in the pipeline the director of Land Transport of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport
'plans to offer a free course for drivers ... to learn about the new traffic law. Motorists must participate in the training course to obtain a license.'

Cost just $7. So not so free. He also mentioned that only 2,000 out of the 500,000 legally registered motorcycles are driven by licensed drivers. In percentages that's 0.4%! No mention is made how this will logisticallly be conducted. Let's just presume it's a proposal.

Banning buses Cambodia style

So what's up with the reported ban on buses? As of the 2nd of January 'authorities' were going to ban buses from the Phnom Penh city (centre?) with the exception of Soriya Transport.
While doing errands yesterday around the central market (which also functions as a de-facto bus/ transportation centre), there were still quite a few non-Soriya buses lurking in the side streets such as this GST bus.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Reporting your neighbour to ...

For those of you not familiar with the day-to-day ongoings in Phnom Penh, be informed: the English speaking expatriate community try to stay in touch with all ongoings by purchasing a 'not even so bad' newspaper called the Cambodia Daily, published six times per week. The sixth time is a weekend edition with little or hardly any local content. Through some kind of arrangement the Daily can access foreign press and freely replicates articles of little relevance, especially in the weekend.
Last weekend (January 20-21, 2007) an article was published called 'Snoop next door', originally from the Wall Street Journal. The full article however was not published (as available on internet), but a shorter version. The main theme of the article concerns how society is trying to wrest control over the individual via internet sites which frame and blame the deviants. The original article delves much more in the total society thing, whereas the article published here in Cambodia has a more 'traffic misdemeanors' side. It also refers to some links such as:
This site is very US based. It gives an overview of number plates and with a click you can view a report, but no photo's. Example:
'Travelling West Bound on Bearse Ave going towards Dale Mabry in Tampa, Fl about 3pm. The driver of this 1998 or 1999 Mitsubishi Galant was a white male, age 50-55, dark hair, sunglasses, light color shirt. He wasn't speeding or weaving or doing any of the things most people write about here. He was just DRINKING A BEER!!! Yes MORON!! I called 911 and I hope the Hillsborough County Sheriffs through your old ass in JAIL!! CAN YOU BE ANY MORE STUPID? HOW ABOUT TRYING TO DRIVE BACKWARDS. THAT MIGHT IMPROVE YOUR JUDGEMENT A LITTLE'!!
Though aboveaverage seems to concentrate on the positive, it is mostly about poor drivers. It has a great statistical page: in 5 years on the net, 16.609 incidents were reported, 95% of them were 'bad guys'. What's even more revealing is that over 10.000 incidents were reported by just 2 persons, meaning they reported three incidents per day for five years! There also seems to be some biasness in the car make: Toyota got reported most.
Irate drivers is a site to report poor US drivers. No photo's, just:
    'Motorcycle cop was driving 40 m.p.h. over the speed limit (approximately) 94 mph without his headlight turned on. I saw his bike parked at the weigh station a few miles up. So, he certainly WAS NOT on a call. Why is it that these cops are allowed to break the law everyday and NOT get tickets yet are able to give tickets to citizens. Makes me sick. He was going too fast for me to see his plate or to get a photograph'.
A UK based site. BMW gets the most incidents reported (does this reveal a sort of social tension, non-existent on the other side of the Atlantic?). They also mention 'the most easily annoyed member': he, who reports the most. They have photo and non-photo reports:
'As you can see from the photograph, the idiot decides not only to park on a bend, but sticks 90% of the car onto the path too. Not only would this be difficult to get past in a wheelchair or with a pushchair, but its even difficult for a pedestrian to get past. Also, whichever house the car was at, both houses near to where it was parked had empty drives, so it s not as though there was no place else to park'!
You can also sort reports by type of incidents ('Mobile phone pratt' or 'MLH: Middle Land Hog'). Oddly enough it also links through to 'speedcam' so you know how not to get a ticket. And to Canadian(!) accident lawyers.
A not so very special exclusive US site. Entries are as such:
'This SUV was left driverless parked in the bike lane. They were using it as a loading area for the hotel'.
Though US based it reports also from other countries (none so far from Cambodia).An entry (with photo) from Singapore:
'A Ferrari with a brand new number plate in a disability parking space. Now, I've seen it all. What, other lots are not good enough? Anyway, justice was served: a Parking Attendant issued a parking offence notice. Perhaps the number plate on the car should have given the owner an inkling of the state of his luck'.
The reporters are dedicated. One even reports a pile of dirt (in California) on a parking space for the lesser accessible individuals:
'This isn't so much an infraction as a dumping. The space where you see that big pile of dirt is an accessible parking bay. Does that pile of dirt have a permit? I don't see one'.
DHL van's also parked in the same reserved spaces (from Auckland, NZ) as was a 'yellow construction truck' on university terrain in Palmerston North, NZ.

Their motto:
'Sick of a car taking up two spaces on the street? How about a car too close to yours? What about the car at the mall parked diagonally? Now you can do something about it. Simply download a notice and place it on the car's windshield. The owner of the vehicle will be informed of their asshole status as well as the proper tips to improve their poor parking techniques. It's time to put an end to asshole parking, or at least to make fun of it'.
The site has hardly any reports, just lot's of photo's of cars parked outside of the parking spaces.

One site missed was the monkeymeter. In the US you can rate your own or a neighbouring city for road rage: New Brunswick is leading the rage. A site dedicated to US road rage complete with photo's and city top ten of road ragers.

What all these sites have in common is that they are assisting law enforcers trying to bring a certain politeness in traffic (bringing it back?). In the western more effluent world, the attitudes seem to be getting worse. As law enforcement is very often a case of efficiency, these sites have been created by volunteers intent to get rid of their own rage on the fellow citizens ...

Back in August Crossing Cambodia referred already to the Malaysian state site dedicated to improving traffic politeness. The Malaysian government sees it as their task to (re-) educate their citizens. Since Crossing Cambodia's referral, the site has not been very active.

The photo above was an 'awarded' photo: not so common in Malaysia apparently ...

It reports that the number of fatal accidents dropped in 2006 (reported on the 2nd of January 2007!), but the number of fatalities rose slightly. The response: 'random drugs tests'! The 'Hall of Shame' photo section is dedicated to motorcyclists with no helmets (shock, horror!)

But the relevance of all this for Cambodia: zilch. What warrants setting up a web site in 1 country is a big laugh over here. Rules are non-existent, enforcement ditto. So why complain about drivers parking on the walkways, clients of a Mobile phone network blocking Sihanouk Avenue, cars driving 100 km an hour in busy built up area's, driving on the wrong side of the road, etc., etc., ....?

A radical solution to the Asian anarchy (is it limited to Asia?) is presented by Guangzhou, China: banning all motorcycles from the city. Logic: driving a motorbike, you need a helmet, means you are invisible, means you are a criminal. No motorcycles, no criminals. It's true!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Accidents happened

A link to two stories from Cambodia Daily (18-01-2007) on the KI site.

"All these people were on motorcycles without safety helmets and speeding," he (deputy municipal traffic police chief) said. "Driving at high speed causes death."

Thanx for the information. But in at least 1 case the deceased was a passenger on a moto which got hit by a car. No word on how the police are going to treat this hit and run case.

What's more:
  • a. helmets are not compulsory: a sorry nation that cares so little for it's own that they can not make helmet use compulsory (and make the enfocement stick).
  • b. speeding: so if that's the case why isn't law enforcement taking place?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Costs of crossing Cambodia

Well, most long-distance transportation in Cambodia seems to be somehow regulated. The case of which buses are allowed to ply the city centre for instance, a Crossing Cambodia blog of a few days back. Another case in mind refers to the Tales of Asia blog of January 12:
'I think I mentioned a month or two ago that the transport situation out of Poipet had gone completely to crap. It's still going on. I'm hearing continued reports of tourists being followed, hassled, and bullied by the taxi touts in Poipet into paying $60 to $70 for a taxi to Siem Reap, with every dollar over $40 going into these guy's pockets'.

Poipet is the border crossing between Bangkok and Siem Reap, home of the Angkor Wat. Public transport from Bangkok to the border is widely available and price-worthy. However cross over into Cambodia and the situation changes. No alternatives to taxi's which ply this stretch of 'highway', one sometimes doubt weather the highway has potholes or the potholes has a highway going through. The normal charge is 20-25 US$, but since the latest rainy season charges for foreigners have been adjusted. Where is the money going?

At the same time you could fly which with these prices is increasingly becoming a bargain. However due to some unmentioned deal there is just 1 airline flying between Bangkok and Phnom Penh ultimately leading to over pricing. The current one way price is 110 $US, the same airline offers prices of 70 $US for the longer distance to Phnom Penh, where it is 1 of the 3 airlines flying this stretch.

Well, coastal resort Sihanoukville has now received an upgraded airport, open to business, according to the Cambodia Daily (16-01-2007), the full article is with KI Media. PMT a local airline will start operations:

PMT Air will operate three flights a week between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, though a final decision has not yet been made on ticket prices, Sar Sareth (PMT director) said.

PMT Air is best known for its flights from Phnom Penh to Ratanakkiri province, a route on which the company has had occasional mishaps.

But what is even more striking is :

'(PMT) announced a significant ticket hike and two-tier pricing, which saw non-Cambodian passengers charged significantly more than locals.
Officially this has not be sanctioned by the government so how can they get away with it? Lack of competion.

Further on in the article something that might interest readers:
'SCA (the company running the new airport) hopes that runway expansion will also make it possible to land much larger Boeing 737s'.

Crossing Cambodia always thought that the air business was an exact science! So why the 'hope'?

On fuel

The protest against the lack of fuel deceases is apparently going to lead to a popular protest, led by an (or the) opposition party:

Today, the latest news indicate that "international oil price fell to a 20-month low, within striking distance of the psychologically key $50 line, marking an 18 percent slide so far this month. The market has plunged more than 35 percent since hitting a record peak of $78.40 a barrel in July 2006."

Finance Minister Keat Chhon is violating the Constitution (Article 96) by stubbornly refusing to answer Member of Parliament Sam Rainsy's repetitive questions about the high level of gasoline price in Cambodia at a time when international crude oil price is plummeting.

On January 12, 2007 the opposition Sam Rainsy Party issued the following statement:


Today, for the second time in two months, opposition leader Sam Rainsy wrote to Finance Minister Keat Chhon asking him the following question: Why has gasoline retail price in Cambodia remained practically unchanged (at about 4,000 riels or nearly $1 per liter) over the last 6 months while crude oil price in the international market has dropped by over 32 percent during the same period of time?


If the decrease in crude oil price is fully passed on to consumers in Cambodia, all other things being equal, gasoline retail price in our country should not exceed 3,200 riels per liter (instead of the current price of around 4,000 riel).

Possibly a move to LPG? An article in the Cambodia Daily (November 6) describes how business interests are planning to get LPG kits for motorcycles. The cost of installment is just 100 $US and saves approximately 50% of the fuel costs. So a possible counterargument to decrease fuel prices?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

From Radio Free Asia this report of in this case a normal accident. Crossing Cambodia would like to use this article to illustrate how traffic accidents and their consequences are dealt with.

Police provides clarification on Sok Serei’s accident

10 Jan 2007
By Mayarith
Radio Free Asia
Translated from Khmer by Heng Soy (KI Media!)

Police authority had provided clarification on a traffic accident which occurred to one RFA reporter. Local newspapers have reported that this accident was political motivated against a reporter who dares talk about issues involving the government.

Pen Khun, the deputy traffic police chief said that RFA reporter Sok Serei was involved in an ordinary traffic accident.

According to its lengthy investigation, and interviews with witnesses of the victim, and the suspects, the police clarified yesterday the traffic accident sustained by RFA reporter Sok Serei was not politically motivated.

Pen Khun claimed that the traffic accident which occurred on 14 Dec 2006, was not a politically motivated as published by some local newspapers.

Pen Khun said: “According to our research and investigation at the location of the accident, we see that this is a simple traffic accident only. After the accident, the vehicle involved fled the scene. After witnesses reported the license plate number of the vehicle, we search the record at the Ministry of Public Works. I reported to the general who is the police chief to ask him to invite the driver who has an address in Koh Kong province. About 4-5 days later, maybe a week, this man came over this morning, he provided an explanation, and he resolved the issue with Mr. Sok Serei. This is a simple traffic accident, it is not politically motivated.”

The police indicated that the accident occurred unintentionally when RFA reporter drove his motorcycle near a car parked by Ek Proch of the right hand side of a street in Phnom Penh. When the car driver got out of the car, Sok Serei’s motorcycle also arrived at the same time, and his motorcycle hit the opening car door. Sok Serei was subsequently injured on the head and became unconscious, his younger daughter who was riding the motorcycle behind him was also injured.

The police indicated that according to its lengthy detailed investigation and interviews with witnesses of the victims and the driver of the car, an arrangement was reached between the victim and the family of the driver, and they agreed to recognize the accident to be a traffic accident, and that no political issue was involved. The driver of the car agreed to help pay some of the damages> sustained by the reporter involved in this accident.

So, an accident happens, the culprit leaves the scene, at the same time leaving the victim in need of medical assistance. Lots of noise is made. The culprit goes to police, discusses compensating some of the medical costs and everybody is happy.
But in most countries if you make a mistake you get prosecuted, certainly not let off by just paying some of the costs. No one is insured in Cambodia so privately compensating the victim is neccesary.

'Public' Transport

Different innovative ways are thought of to curtail the increasing traffic jams in Phnom Penh. This one ranks quite high. Here's the link to the story originally from the Cambodia Daily (2-1-2007).

Anyway, all buses will be 'blocked' from entering the city so as to avoid traffic jams. The article states that there are 300 buses which compare to the capitol's other vehicles: 120,000 cars and some 470,000 motorcycles, so such an obvious bus regulation would not seem to be effective.

At current, all provincial buses (and even international buses) can drive to the city's central market, and do all their on- and offloading there. Of course in the absence of any mass public transport within the city this is quite convenient as most people can continue to their city destination by either a tuk-tuk and/or motorcycle, without much cost. Barring these buses from the city's interior results in passengers having to use these alternatives (the tuk-tuks / moto's) for longer stretches resulting in higher costs, sometimes even higher than that needed for the long distance journey itself, and by using the alternatives possibly these would contribute more to congestion than the original buses.

But in all fairness, once on the road the buses are no problem. But they tend to park their buses for longer stretches of time straight on the road in already heavily congested areas, which is a problem for traffic flow.

One small detail is that a Malaysian bus company, which has some sort of contract, would allow to stay in the city centre ....

What this reflects, is the total disregard by the government to take effective measures to maintain access by the public to roads which are in essence public. By barring buses from entering the city, passengers (mostly those that can not afford a car) are expected to pay more for the same journey. The effectiveness is in question, as the same passengers (presumably) now all need a (semi-) private vehicle for a much longer distance which actually means more congestion rather than less. And the measure is questionable as the government virtually gives one player a monopoly.

What the government should be doing is:
  • either looking into building a centrally based bus station which ensures equal access to all potential passengers
  • or building a bus station (or several depending on the destination) on the outskirts of the city and making low-cost onward travel in any form (bus, minibus, tram, train, etc., etc.) possible.

Why the government still does not seem to look into mass transport systems for the capital beats Crossing Cambodia. With current levels of growth in traffic the city will increasingly become congested. Addressing this congestion can not be effectively met by widening a couple of roads and barring buses from the center.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gasoline prices going ....

An article published by AFP and copied by KI:

Opposition demands a government response over record gasoline prices
Demands for answers in Cambodia over record gas prices

PHNOM PENH Cambodia's political opposition has demanded a government response over record petrol prices, which remain at over one US dollar a litre despite falling global oil costs.

"Why has the price not gone down when the cost of oil worldwide has dropped ... I want an answer from (Finance Minister) Keat Chhon," opposition leader Sam Rainsy wrote in a letter, dated January 12.

"This creates hardships for the Cambodian people," he added, saying the minister has so far refused to respond to his questions.

Crude oil prices closed at below 53 dollars a barrel Friday -- levels not seen since June 2005 -- after reaching highs in mid-2006 of around 78 dollars per barrel.

Cambodian petrol prices more than doubled as a result of the global surge last year, pushing up the cost of other essential goods as well.

While there has been a slight ease in pump prices, petrol in Cambodia shows no signs of dropping sharply.

Government officials say they have no control over fuel costs, although some have suggested that the finance ministry could urge gas companies for an across-the-board cut.

Gas companies in Cambodia have little reason to lower their prices once international markets drive them up amid a dearth of competition. There are no government subsidies to soften the impact of higher energy costs.
The situation on the local market is far from clear. Besides the big players, some with obviously good connections to the government there are a lot of 'illegal' petrol players, small time pumps selling to motorcyclists. 'Illegal', as the petrol is smuggled in from either Vietnam and/or Thailand. But as they are allowed to sell at vitually every corner, they can't be illegal. Either way someone somewhere is making a healthy profit especially if the world market prices are falling.

Lawless no more?

Just before the end of the year the Cambodian parliament has been discussing (for four days, with sound bytes from Hun Sen himself(though in all honesty it seems a repeat of what was expressed earlier this year from various other governemnt / NGO staff)) and actually approving a new traffic law. All good news Crossing Cambodia hears? Amongst the goodies approved of are:

  • compliance to observe posted signs and signals (1 month license suspension)
  • no use of mobile phones while driving
  • children under 10 years of age have to wear seatbelts and bans them from riding in the front seats of vehicles
  • drivers found to have more than 0.8 grams of alcohol in a liter of blood could face between six days and six months in jail and fines of between $6 and $246
  • fines of $488 to $1,463 on traffic police who extort money from motorists or damage their property during traffic stops
Adding to this list are apparently compulsory use of a helmet for motorcycles, instigation of mandatory driving's licenses and speeding (more than ?) will become illegal.

It will come into law in 6 months, so naturally 4 weeks after passing this not much has happened. On the subject of the less drastic action of imposing compulsory usage of side mirrors. Yesterdays mirror count at the Lucky Sihanouk Supermarket revealed 26 had both mirrors, 2 had just the 1 mirror, but surprisingly 15 had no mirrors despite all the hype. So how will the new law fare?

Let's hope it improves something, though through the press several influential (and less influential) people are skeptical, it all comes down to enforcement. But with the penalties set so high Crossing Cambodia doubts any traffic policeman (are there no traffic police woman?) will graciously start doing their job ...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Taming Cambodia's 'wild' roads?

From the Yahoo news site, an AFP article on the traffic situation in Cambodia:

Spiralling traffic deaths force Cambodia to tame wild roads

by Sue Se
Sun Jan 7, 5:04 PM ET

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Another weekend night falls over Phnom Penh and the capital's streets are awash in red tail lights as hundreds of drivers clog the main boulevards or dart down side roads to avoid the bumper-to-bumper crush.
Whole families cling to the seats of small motorbikes, the youngest often perched over the handlebars like hood ornaments, while young turks on neon scooters dip dangerously in and out of traffic and expensive SUVs cruise the pavement like asphalt sharks.
Later in the evening, the inevitable crowds gather over crumpled vehicles. Arguments, or even gunshots will erupt across shattered windscreens.
The maimed and broken bodies will be carted off to hospitals as police bend over lines of white spraypaint on the road marking where vehicles cartwheeled or skidded to an abrupt and often fatal halt.
Traffic fatalities have more than doubled in the last five years, becoming Cambodia's second deadliest killer behind HIV/AIDS and resulting in mounting costs for the government.
Some 1,070 people were killed in the first 10 months of last year, compared with only 400 deaths reported in 2000, and experts fear many more deaths might go unrecorded.
An average of three people are killed and more than 100 hurt each day on Cambodia's roads, putting the country's fatality rate at nearly double the regional average, according to Sann Socheata, a road safety program manager with Handicap International Belgium.
"More than 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error," she said.
The cost to impoverished Cambodia's economy is some 130 million US dollars a year in healthcare and lost productivity, or roughly 3.0 percent of the gross domestic product -- again, a regional high.
"It is really a big concern, as road traffic accidents have a huge negative impact on the country's development," she told AFP.
In a bid to put an end to the carnage the government has pushed through drastic new traffic laws, previously unheard of in Cambodia's free-wheeling road culture.
Drivers' licenses will now be mandatory, as will helmets for those on motorbikes and seatbelts for vehicle drivers. Speeding and drunk driving - both common on Cambodia's roads - will for the first time be illegal.
"This law is needed now ... because traffic accident are on the rise," said Heng Samrin, president of Cambodia's parliament which passed the new measures last month.
One of the most visible signs of Cambodia's modernisation is its roads - city streets have been repaired and rural highways blacktopped as the government prioritises transport as a key to developing the war-scarred nation.
With Cambodia's new-found stability has come an unprecedented surge in personal wealth that has sparked a massive buying spree by Cambodians eager to own vehicles, without necessarily knowing how to operate them.
There are no learner's permits nor driving tests. Anyone with money can, literally, drive their new car off the lot and immediately into the chaos of Cambodia's roads.
"With the economy improving, many more people have the money to buy a motorscooter or car, and they want to drive ... so there is a kind of freedom," said Jean Van Wetter, former operations coordinator with Handicap International Belgium, which issues monthly reports on traffic accidents.
"But (drivers) don't know the rules, and when they know the rules, they don't respect them - there is a lack of respect in general due to a lack of law enforcement," Van Wetter added.
Negligent policing is widely seen as the biggest obstacle to bringing order to the country's clogged roads.
As good as the new laws might be, implementation will at best be spotty and at worst, encourage even more corruption among Cambodian traffic police.
"The police are motivated by money, not the law," Van Wetter said.
Police, in turn, blame drivers' lack of respect for any sort of authority.
Motorists routinely ignore police trying to wave them over for minor offenses, leading to frequent scenes of officers trying to manhandle often bemused drivers to the roadside.
"Some drivers drive so nasty. It is hard for us, we don't know when they will respect the law," complained traffic police chief Tin Prasoer.
But with Cambodia at the bottom of the so-called "motorisation curve", and road safety largely unknown to most drivers, respect for the law is a long way off.
"The traffic system reflects the mindset of the people - everybody wants to be a part of this growth, but at the same time people like to be free to do what they want," Van Wetter said.

  • A fair reflection? Are economic boom times to blame for the increase in traffic accidents? Well, just look at the title of the article : Spiraling traffic deaths force Cambodia's to tame wild roads. Does this imply some moral superiority? The 'wild' roads refer to the users, Crossing Cambodia supposes; certainly the condition of the roads can not be described as wild (anymore). When most people get behind a steering wheel they tend to transform and in Cambodia that is the same. What's more, due to the lack of rules and enforcement, traffic users have devised their own culture and though not always safe or efficient, the end result is that the road users get to their destination.
  • The article stresses the rise in deaths, but from other data previously reported it is the fact that the rest of the country is playing catch up that is the driving force behind the dramatic increases, in Phnom Penh the rate is decreasing despite 'neon-scooters' (?), 'SUV sharks' and 'bumper to bumper crushes'.
  • And the regional average what is that? One obvious perception Crossing Cambodia has, is that data collection on traffic and traffic related deaths in Cambodia is superior to that in neighbouring countries.
  • '"This law is needed now ... because traffic accident are on the rise," said Heng Samrin'
Traffic accidents have been on the rise since ages, why is the law needed now?

First impression revisited

Just back from the end of year holidays. What's the impression:
  1. They are making the airport road wider!
  2. Even on a Sunday morning there are traffic snarls mainly due to traffic participants hindering each other, in their quest to get from here to there.
  3. The taxi driver had a piece of paper (with numbers) in his hand and in the other his mobile phone which he was pressing regularly. He used the horn, every other nano second ('in Cambodia we must horn, in other country, no!'). We cut off two corners by speeding through petrol stations (= very common) and one corner we cut off the traffic lights by driving the wrong way up the free turn lane for the traffic from the right.
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