BY REAKSMEY KONGKEA
The introduction of traffic laws requiring mandatory crash helmet use will come into full effect on January 1st 2009, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The new laws will be administered by the Phnom Penh Municipal authorities and there will be a system of fines for motorcyclists who disobey.
The Prime Minister revealed these measures during a speech delivered to an audience of instructors and graduates at a degree ceremony held December 22nd in Phnom Penh.
“I appeal to all Cambodian motorcyclists to wear crash helmets whenever they use our roads. If you haven’t got a crash helmet, I advise you to get one now to avoid the fines and more importantly avoid becoming a traffic accident statistic. From 2009, we will see big reductions in the number of fatal accidents on our roads and you cooperation is vital,” he said.
“The state spends more money on clearing up the aftermath of traffic accidents than it does on combating the threat of AIDS and landmines combined. Clearly, we have more important things to spend our money on than avoidable traffic accidents. Therefore, our nation’s civil servants will be the first to set an excellent example and will wear helmets whenever they take their motorbikes on the road. Each Ministry will be checking to make sure that their personnel are obeying the laws. If individual civil servants cannot respect this basic and humane law, they will soon find their positions filled by a new employee who does understand the importance of respect for the rule of law,” Hun Sen said.
The Premier continued that crash helmet sellers should not use this announcement as an excuse to increase prices. These laws have been introduced for the benefit of all Cambodians and should not be interpreted as an invitation to make more profit.
Many helmet wholesalers in Phnom Penh have confirmed that business is good following the Prime Minister’s announcement. Many reported that they had sold out of crash helmets since the media broadcast of the announcement on December 22.
Seng Bunly, 57, a helmet supplier in Phnom Penh, said he was having trouble keeping up with demand. He said he was selling upwards of 100 skid lids per day, whereas previously he was lucky to sell more than ten. Naturally, Bunly was happy with developments.
Moeung Kimleang, 45, another helmet vendor in Phnom Penh, reported even greater increases in the helmet trade, following the Prime Minister’s announcement.
She reported sales of up to 60 helmets per day. She also mentioned that prices ranged from $5 for a poor quality bone dome offering little protection in an accident to $30 for a top-of-the-range model. She also noted that the majority of products were imported from Thailand and Vietnam.
The sale of second hand helmets is also increasing, according to Heng Lida, 47. She reported that she had to place larger orders from her suppliers to keep up with demand. On an average day she said she was selling up to 80 helmets at prices ranging from $2 - $10 per item.
Chea Vutha, 36, is one of the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who rely on motorbikes for travel. He said that he paid $7 for a second-hand helmet. He spoke of his complete support for the Prime Minister’s initiative and looked forward to hearing of reduced fatalities on the roads as the laws come into full effect.
Tin Praseu, Chief of the Municipal Traffic Police Office in the Ministry of Interior, said that his authorities will start to carry out routine checks on all public roads in Phnom Penh.
“The police will implement a system of fines for all motorbike drivers who do not use helmets and the dateline for mandatory helmet use will start from January 1, 2009,” he told the Cambodia Weekly by telephone on December 24.
He continued, “January will mark the full implementation of fines for people who not use helmets whilst riding in Phnom Penh. We hope that all people will welcome and applaud our activities. We also hope that with these measures, we will be able to make significant reductions in road accidents and improvements to the safety of travelling.
On an average day in Cambodia, four to five people die in road accidents whilst 70 people suffer severe injuries. The annual cost of this to the nation, with all considerations factored in, is over US $100 million, according to a report of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
From January-September 2008, according to Handicap International, 17,916 casualties were recorded, resulting in the deaths of 1,114 people, and if compared to the whole year in 2007, there were recorded with 9,449 accidents, resulting the death of 1,545 fatalities.
Currently, the fines are pegged at 3,000 riel (about $0.70) for a motorbike rider without a helmet.