Through this letter we would like to draw attention to the challenge of road safety in modern Cambodia and on ways to reduce the tremendous burden caused by road crashes each year, which are often preventable.
Three main factors have contributed to the rapid increase of road crashes and fatalities in the last six years. Firstly, the improved quality of the road infrastructure has allowed for significantly higher travel speeds. Despite the modernization of Cambodia’s highway systems, families still living in very close proximity to these roads. As a result, children, cattle and other livestock are commonly seen crossing these roads without fear or concern for oncoming traffic.
Secondly, there has been and continues to be a tremendous growth of vehicles on the roads. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport estimates that the rate of increase of road users is over 20% per year. People are traveling more often, they are traveling for longer distances, they take more time to commute from home to work, and they conduct more inter-provincial trade and leisure activities.
A simple rule of road safety says that when more vehicles are interacting at a higher speed, the likelihood of a crash and the severity of the injury will be higher. Especially, when certain risk factors are involved!
Risk factors are the third main ingredient in Cambodia’s growing road safety problem. In Cambodia, the most problematic risk factors are speeding, drunk-driving, lack of protection in traffic, and disobedience of the traffic rules. Here are a few interesting, yet alarming facts concerning these risk factors in 2009:
Speeding: Along the Cambodian National Road network, speed-related fatalities are 50 % of all total crash fatalities.
Drunk driving: 87% of drunk-driving casualties are males
Lack of protection in traffic – 76% of all motorcycle fatalities are from head injuries, only 8% were wearing helmets at the time of the crash. Only 30% of four-wheel crash fatalities were wearing seatbelts. Pedestrian fatalities are an increasing trend throughout Cambodia.
Poor understanding or disobedience of the traffic rules: running red lights, going the wrong way down a street, using the left hand lane to make left turns, and not yielding to incoming traffic are dangerous behaviors, yet are daily occurrences.
One of Handicap International’s core aims in Cambodia is to work towards prevention of the 1717 yearly fatalities and 12538 crashes experienced in Cambodia last year.
This road safety problem can not be solved independently. Government, civil society, private sector and the general public all play a crucial role in addressing this very real human disaster. Every day 5 persons die on the roads in Cambodia. This is the highest figure in the ASEAN region. It is also calculated that road accidents cost Cambodian Society annually around 248 million USD. This figure includes the costs of hospitalization, damage on vehicles, and loss of earning capacity due to injury, permanent disability or death.
Unfortunately only an estimated 1 million USD per annum has been invested in promoting road safety and preventing road casualties and fatalities. This amount is definitely not enough to address the full scope of the road safety problem.
In order to significantly reduce the number of road crashes we will need to change the behavior of road users, traffic rules will need to be improved, laws will need to be strictly enforced and infrastructure will need to be adapted and improved. Through awareness campaigns, support to government, distribution of helmets and other interventions, Handicap International is a leader in the road safety sector in Cambodia. Another important tool for monitoring the situation of Road Safety in Cambodia is our Road Crash Victim Information System (RCVIS). Data analysis using the RCVIS System clearly shows us that as a sector we need to increase our efforts in order to make a lasting impact!
Program manager Road Safety Handicap International Belgium
Country Director Handicap International Belgium