Is drunk driving the main culprit?

Is drunk driving the main culprit?

In 2023, compared to 2022, traffic accidents increased 341 times, equivalent to 11%, according to the Ministry of Interior. In fact, in 2023, there were a total of 3,317 accidents, with 55 percent occurring at night, in which 1,590 people were killed and 4,515 injured. The increased data has triggered many alarming questions, especially the debate over the main cause of this development.

It is worth noting that road traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in Cambodia. An average of 5.4 people die every day from traffic accidents in Cambodia, making it the sixth leading cause of mortality, greater than all deaths from HIV/AIDS. As a middle-income country, Cambodia now faces the mortality and morbidity challenges that come with increased levels of prosperity.

Despite many blaming the alcohol factor as the key suspect, the ministerial study shows otherwise. The Ministry depicts that regardless of the accusation of the influence of alcohol, it is responsible for only 3 percent of the total incidents in 2023. In addition, a large portion of the incidents accounted for the violation of the traffic law, recorded at 89 percent of the year, uttering a controversial message to the public.

However, concerning the famous quote “I can’t see the forest for the trees,” it is suggested not to make an assumption based on just one year of study. Therefore, the examination should be based on the whole forest, suggesting the study requires supplementary data.

Weekend accidents are more likely to occur, according to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study that looked at factors related to traffic accident fatalities in Cambodia. The study’s summary statistics from 2014 to 2019 pooled data analysis showed that from Tuesday through Friday, the number of fatal and major accidents rises progressively, and from Friday to Sunday, it increases sharply. This may be because the majority of social gatherings are planned for the days when everyone is off work. On weekends, people often drink alcohol-containing beverages at social gatherings, which increases the risk of drunk driving and the ensuing increase in traffic accidents.

Despite the two comparative data being interpreted differently, it is clear that both traffic violations and drunken drinking are causes of traffic accidents in Cambodia, regardless of their varied impact levels. Moving forward, Cambodia should swiftly find ways to deal with these silent killers that fit with Cambodian society.

Regarding drunkenness and driving, it is monumental that the Cambodian government implements methods to discourage people from drinking, or at least, to alleviate the level of consumption that the drinkers used to drink. To realize these measures, firstly, it is highly recommended that the government should regulate or ban brewery companies from advertising their products by giving away prizes which have been the main factor luring Cambodians to drink. Secondly, if they were to drink, the government should find an alternative to bring them home safely, and the most practical and long-term solution is to create a public transport system that is efficient and operates surrounding popular drinking establishments.

Referring to the traffic violation issues, the traffic laws are good; however, the core problem is based on the will of both drivers and law enforcers. Therefore, traffic officers need to exercise their duties in line with accountability and state regulations, avoiding potential abnormalities in the service they provide. Moreover, violated drivers shall be penalized per the level of their violation, regardless of their social status or privilege, so that they will be deterred from committing repeated violations in the future.

KI Manghout is a Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Research and Legal Studies (CARLS) at the Asian Vision Institute (AVI).

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