Some months ago when your paper reported that 100 new traffic lights had been installed at the busy intersections around Phnom Penh, I saw it as a sign of progress and also as a way of helping to ease the chronic traffic jams that often happen in the city during peak hours.
As a retiree with a lot of time on my hands, I often take long walks around Phnom Penh in an effort to get some exercise and also to get to know the city better.
Crossing major roads has always been a problem for me, as I’m not as fast on my feet as I once was, and I thought the traffic lights would make crossing roads at the intersections where they’re installed easier.
My theory was that all I had to do was wait for the traffic light to turn red, the traffic would stop and I could stroll across the road to the other side.
How wrong I was. The first time I tried to cross a road using this method I was almost run over by several motorcycles, a tuk-tuk, a car and a kid on a bicycle, whose drivers or riders treated the red light like just a neon advertising sign and drove straight through the intersection, seemingly oblivious to what that red light was for.
It was a rude awakening for me and fortunately I survived unscathed.
On one of recent my regular walks around the city, I found somewhere to sit and spent 30 minutes watching one particularly busy intersection where one of the new sets of traffic lights had been installed. I tried to count the number of vehicles which went through red lights, but there were so many I couldn’t keep up.
There was also a group of traffic policemen on one corner of this intersection, but their only interest appeared to be in stopping people on motorcycles who weren’t wearing helmets and extracting some beer money from them.
Then a thought occurred to me – what if these traffic policemen stopped and fined everyone who ignored the red lights?
In no time at all they would make enough money to pay local authorities to fill in all the potholes in the roads, build some more public toilets, keep the streets cleaner and still have a bit left over for some drinks in the beer gardens after work.
In the process, they may even teach people with cars and motorcycles what the traffic lights are actually there for.
I know Cambodia is a poor country, but enforcing the rules of the road could be a major source of income for the government, just as it is for state governments in my own country, Australia.
My next letter will be about enforcing the laws on littering, but I need to do some research and find out if there are any actual laws to penalise people who throw their rubbish on the ground.