Scene of an accident between a Lexus SUV and moto driver, Phnom Penh.
Even with 20 years of driving experience I have not yet mustered the courage to drive a car or a moto in Phnom Penh. At it’s best, driving in the city is rather organic. Since everyone drives fairly slowly if you follow the wave of traffic and always watch what’s in front of you, you will likely make it home safely. At it’s worst, when every vehicle (car, tuk tuk, motos, and bicycles) is fighting for every inch forward during rush hour traffic, constantly weaving in and out, and often driving the opposite direction of one way streets, it becomes a bit overwhelming. Because there are so many drivers who don’t follow the traffic rules, and there is little enforcement of it, it is a frustrating and dangerous exercise of patience and luck.
According to the Ministry of Interior from 2011-2012 1,894 people were killed in traffic accidents (PPP), with over 60 percent of the victims moto drivers or riders without helmets. That’s five deaths per day. This is not to mention the many deaths that go unreported or the countless people who are injured or maimed from traffic accidents.
These deaths and injuries are exacerbated by the poor medical infrastructure in Cambodia, which doesn’t often have the capacity to address emergency medical care in urgent situations. Those that can afford it are evacuated to Bangkok. Accidents are particularly fatal on National Highways where there is little to no access to medical attention along rural roads.
The main causes of accidents are speeding, drunk driving, reckless driving and not wearing helmets. But these are the “official” causes and easy to attribute. What is beneath the surface are the underlying problems of uneducated drivers who obtained licenses illegally and lack of police enforcement of traffic violations.
It is estimated that more than half of the people who drive cars, motos, and tuk tuks, don’t have a proper legal license. As a result, a majority of drivers may not understand the traffic signs or the rules of the road. It is not uncommon to see a 12 year-old child riding his moto with three of his friends (all not wearing helmets) while driving inches away from an SUV. This is a recipe for disaster and fatality as the SUV always wins and often times walks away with little physical and financial damages and accountability.
Until I muster up enough courage to be a road warrior in Cambodia, I will sit back and watch the chaos from the back of a tuk tuk and with a little luck I will make it home safely.
Would you or do you feel safe driving in Cambodia?