Cambodians Should Learn Safe Driving Behavior at an Early Age

By Chhay Raksmey (UC Student) and Dr. D. Kyle Latinis (Associate Dean for Graduate Studies)

Sem Chenda, one of UC’s top graduate students, is taking advantage of the redesigned FDN503 course on Research Paper Writing in order to address the relationship between poverty and traffic accidents. She is simultaneously meeting course requirements, refining her professional skills and helping the community.

Ms Chenda has integrated her work experiences, access to relevant data, and keen awareness of real problems in order to design practical and better solutions for meeting Cambodia’s development goals. Not only are traffic accidents one of the leading killers in Cambodia, they are expensive physically, socially and financially.

Country-wide, the costs of even minor traffic accidents (through damage to vehicles and other property; clinic and hospital expenses and even funerals) must be enormous. For example, a totalled (completely wrecked) motorcycle costs hundreds of dollars to fix or replace: this is more than the annual income for many poor Cambodian families who rely on such vehicles to generate income. The common perception is that poor Cambodians are frequently the victims of the bad traffic behavior of middle and upper class drivers; and that they thus are often ignored and can seek very little legal aid if any at all.

Other costs seldom considered are injury recovery time and/or permanent physical and mental disabilities (many if not most serious injuries are head injuries) which lead to a productive labor loss for the individual, the workplace and the economy.

Like those in many other countries, both poor and wealthy Cambodians (whether rural or urban) start learning either good or bad road, safety and maintenance behavior from an early age: riding bicycles, driving motorcycles and even tractors, cars, trucks, and other motorized vehicles (don’t forget the Norry of Battambang and Pursat—motorized rail track carts), as well as operating motorized and other heavy machinery. Initiatives from family, community, non-government and government levels can effectively push education at earlier ages to reduce accidents, thus reducing costs and increasing health and productivity at all scales. Many adults also need to be better informed on what the safety standards are and how to teach safety behavior to their children. This includes teaching safe pedestrian behavior and making vehicles safer and more visible as well.

Currently, dangerous behavior is socially accepted with limited consequences. Police have been increasing efforts to enforce traffic safety. However, since bad habits have become entrenched and socially accepted, all the police enforcement in the country has limited effect. Young adults (the top accident and injury category), for example, can be seen fleeing from police checks everyday with no respect for the law. Escape behaviors are actually far more dangerous than the initial offense.

The laws would be more effective if people respected and obeyed them. Traffic laws are designed and enforced to increase safety, not to punish the community. The community as a whole needs to increase efforts to educate the youth early and help support campaigns to reinforce ideas that dangerous driving behavior is socially unacceptable.

In relation to poverty and traffic accidents, the message is clear: better safety, taught and enforced at an earlier age with active support from all sectors of society, will reduce traffic accidents and thus reduce social, physical and financial costs for all. Additionally, teaching by example means that adults have a significant role and responsibility. Bad safety behavior and high accident rates will only hinder Cambodians and Cambodia as a nation from achieving its development goals.