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Traffic Death Toll Rising on Cambodian Roads

At busy hours, drivers ignore traffic signs on Phnom Penh roads.
Though the death toll due to traffic accidents in Cambodia is on the rise, experts say it is still relatively low, compared to developed countries. Still, experts say there is much that can be done to prevent the increasing number of fatalities on Cambodia’s roads.

Nearly 2,000 people died in traffic accidents in Cambodia in 2012, a doubling of the death toll over the last seven years, according to the World Health Organization. Cambodia’s traffic deaths account for nine times the number of deaths than from malaria, dengue fever, HIV and AIDS, and landmines put together.

That’s a rate of 17 per 1000,000, lower than Cambodia’s regional neighbors—mostly because those countries have better roads, which means faster traffic.

“In Cambodia, roads are quite better than five or 10 years ago,” said Steven Iddings, road safety and injury prevention team leader for the World Health Organization. “But it also creates opportunities for drivers to drive faster.”

Iddings said that Cambodian driver behavior is a major factor in traffic deaths. Drunk driving and speeding are particularly a concern, along with failure to wear helmets or buckle seat belts, he said. “In other words, those things that do not cost expensive highway infrastructure, but things that can be changed by the people in behavior alone,” he said.

Cambodian drivers often break traffic laws, run lights and speed, and drunk driving is common.

Khim Yideth, deputy secretary-general for the National Road Safety Committee, said broken laws are the main cause of fatal traffic accidents. A full 96 percent of road accidents come from human error, he said. “In short, this is because of breaking the law and irresponsible driving,” he said.

Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcycle riders accounted for 83 percent of fatalities in 2012, the Ministry of Interior says. Half of those fatalities were young people aged between 15 and 29.

Poor traffic law enforcement, limited education and the proliferation of alcohol advertising are all contributors to Cambodia’s road fatalities, said Sao Sovannratanak, technical road safety officer for the WHO.

A new road traffic law has been in the draft stage since 2010, and is expected to be enacted in 2014. That would mean better enforcement, said Men Chansokol, deputy director of the land transportation department at the Ministry of Public Works.

Fines will increase fivefold for failure to wear a helmet, speeding and drunk driving, he said.