The death and injury toll caused by traffic accidents in Cambodia remains a major concern for the government. Thousands of people lose their lives every year due to road crashes, causing grief and sorrow to the victims’ loved ones, and for a lot of families, the loss of the breadwinner. In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, Colonel They Visal, chief of the Traffic Police Office, discusses this problematic issue and provides potential solutions.
KT: Can you briefly describe the situation of traffic accidents in Cambodia?
Col Visal: First, we have to look at the statistics in the first five months this year and compare it to the same period last year. In the past five months, there have been 1,829 cases of traffic accidents, an increase by about 20 percent compared to the same period last year, which witnessed only 1,390 cases. The death toll from the road crashes this year up to May reached 868, an 8-percent increase from last year’s 798. Meanwhile, the number of those who are severely injured increased by 20 percent, from 1,308 to 1,787, while the number of those who are slightly injured also rose by 7 percent, from 818 to 945. Financially, accidents cost Cambodia around $300 million a year.
KT: How has your team been working to curb this issue?
Col Visal: Despite this year’s increase, the Traffic Police Office has achieved a success, but we are not yet satisfied with that success and we need to put in more effort. To understand that, we have to look at the statistics in the past five years. In 2014, traffic accidents killed about 2,000 people. In 2018, on the other hand, the death toll went down to 1,761. We have saved in average 387 lives per month in the past five years, which we assume to be our success, while the numbers of vehicles in the country has increased by 30 to 40 percent each year and the total population annually swelled by one or two percent.
There are two factors that led to our success. For us, 2015 was a very important year. It was the year in which the new traffic law was adopted by the National Assembly.
The law has been drafted by specialists and experts to ensure that it fits the current traffic situation in Cambodia. Another factor is the creation of the National Road Safety Committee, headed by Samdech Kralahorm Sar Kheng, the Minister of Interior, also in 2015.
With the new law and a clear mechanism, we made strategic plans to execute the new enforcements.
KT: How about the degree of law compliance among the people in the past five years?
Col Visal: According to our statistics, the people’s knowledge and understanding of traffic law and road safety have overall increased. This is proved by a decrease in the death toll in the last five years.
KT: What kinds of vehicles cause the most traffic accidents in Cambodia?
Col Visal: Causing the most accidents is motorbikes, including the ones used to drag a cart and tuk-tuk. Accidents caused by motorbikes account for 70 percent of all accidents in Cambodia. The new law states that motorbike drivers whose rides are 125cc or less will no longer need a license, yet our statistics proves that it is that kind of rides which cause most of the accidents in the country. Therefore, the people who do need to learn about road safety and traffic law. In fact, we have a special team which is studying with law experts on a new way to improve the safety of those driving 125cc or less.
KT: What has the Traffic Police Office been doing to prevent traffic accidents?
Col Visal: Under the Road Safety Committee, there are three sub-committees. They are the Law Enforcement Supervision Sub-committee, Strategic Plan and Policy Sub-committee, and Capital/Provincial Road Safety Sub-committee. With these mechanisms, our strategic plans since 2015 aim to prevent and reduce the traffic accidents. We have eight strategic targets: road safety regulation, traffic infrastructure safety, vehicle safety, driver education, ICU system, traffic law amendment, driving test re-strengthening and transportation safety supervision and assessment.
KT: Speaking of educating people, what have you been doing to make people change their negative behaviours on the road?
Col Visal: We use two major mechanisms to change their behaviours: law enforcement and education. But, we want to focus more on education by spreading the message that promote law compliance. However, many people, especially farmers, do not possess the knowledge on traffic laws and road safety because they are living too far from us. Yet, we assigned police officers to go to their areas to teach them, but that is still not enough.