Human error is the leading cause of road traffic accidents in Cambodia and young people on motorcycles make up the largest number of deaths on the nation’s roads, where 1,108 fatalities were recorded in the first six months of 2016.
Ear Chariya, founding director of the Institute of Road Safety, told VOA Khmer’s call-in show on June 22 that younger people between the age of 15 and 34 years accounted for 60 percent of the total number of reported road deaths in the first half of 2016.
Motorcyclists accounted for 73 percent of all fatalities while pedestrians accounted for 10 percent of road traffic deaths, Ear Chariya said, adding that the most dangerous time on the nation’s streets and highways was between 6pm and 8pm.
“Among the three main factors, human behavior on the road accounted for 90 percent of the total number of accidents. These behaviors include driving over the speed limit, drunk driving, overtaking in dangerous locations, careless driving, and disrespecting [right of way] on the road,” Ear Chariya said.
In the first six months of the year, Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Takeo, Battambang and Pursat province reported the largest number of traffic accidents, though, nationally, there was a 10 percent decrease in the number of fatalities compared to the same six-month period in 2015, which saw 1,229 reported road deaths, he added. The decrease in traffic accidents was a positive sign, which Ear Chariya attributed to outreach efforts to educate motorists about safety as well as better enforcement of road traffic laws.
Responding to a Kompong Thom province caller, Sun Thon, who observed that accidents peak during national holidays, Ear Chariya said the huge increase in commuters during holiday periods was to blame.
“During this period, people are in a rush to travel, driving fast, and driving drunk, without paying full attention to the vulnerability of road accidents,” he said.
Government authorities are also failing to provide adequate measures to prevent accidents during national holidays and, among drivers, there is a limited understanding of the traffic law, he added, recounting research he conducted in 2015 where only 3 percent of those surveyed were able to correctly identify road traffic signs.
“Many drivers have not gone through [road traffic] education or hold driving licenses,” he said.
“Some others obtain their licenses illegally.”
After human error, the second leading cause of accidents is poorly maintained and dangerous vehicles, particularly faulty brakes, tires, lights and steering, while unfavorable road conditions – lack of road signs and sidewalks for pedestrians, as well as potholes - constitutes the third major cause of road accidents.
Government officials also need to act as role models, Ear Chariya said, explaining that traffic police officers are often unable or unwilling to prosecute rich and powerful individuals who break road traffic laws, and bring pressure and influence in order to secure “compromises” and avoiding charges and court cases.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s much publicized gesture on June 18 in which he traveled to a police station in Phnom Penh to voluntarily pay a small fine after he was criticized for posting images to his Facebook page showing him driving a motorcycle without a helmet was a welcome development, Ear Chariya said.
It was a “gesture of responsibility,” he said.
“Hun Sen publicly apologized for his unintentional mistake and appealed to the people not to take after him.”