Cambodia is taking decisive action to improve road safety on National Road 5 (NR5), a vital artery linking the Thai and Vietnamese borders via NR1, punctuated by the Tsubasa Bridge, also known as Neak Leoung Bridge. The impressive structure was constructed with funds donated by the Japanese government.

The country’s road safety reforms encompass infrastructure enhancements, robust law enforcement, data-centric strategies and expansive educational programmes, reflecting the government’s pledge to ensure the roads are safe for all its citizens.

Min Manvy, secretary of state of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and secretary-general of the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC), emphasised the significance of data in understanding and tackling safety issues in an October 3 workshop titled “Content Development for Traffic Law and Behavioural Change”, held at Kampong Chhnang’s provincial transportation department.

“If we lack information about the situation, we won’t know what actions to take,” she said.

This philosophy highlights the value of data-driven solutions for determining strategies to improve road safety.

Cambodia’s burgeoning economy has driven a swift increase in registered motor vehicles, which in turn has triggered a concerning rise in severe incidents, predominantly on the nation’s primary trunk roads. A startling 74 per cent of all traffic-related deaths occur on these major routes.

Manvy identified human factors as the leading cause of incidents, explaining that speeding was the cause of 38 per cent of all accidents, with 25-26 per cent being judged as the result of failure to respect the right of way and dangerous overtaking responsible for just over ten per cent. Driving under the influence was recorded as the primary cause of slightly less than ten per cent of crashes.

“In cases of accidents involving alcohol, we face a challenge as we do not have the capability of testing the blood alcohol levels of the deceased. Therefore, the real count of alcohol-related accidents may be higher than reported,” she conceded.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been a crucial collaborator through the “National Road 5 Improvement Project” since 2013.

Chhim Phalla, director of the ministry’s Road Infrastructure Department, reported several significant developments on NR5. It has been upgraded from two lanes to four, with a thickness of 15cm. The improved road meets international standards in terms of both quality and durability, with the infrastructure investment exceeding $600 million.

He said this financial commitment exemplifies the government’s dedication to a robust transportation network, bolstering trade, tourism and overall connectivity.

He noted that the highway is set to be inaugurated by November’s end, with 36km remaining to be completed, between Banteay Meanchey and Stung Bot in Poipet.

Manvy said the 366km concession project, which was funded by the Japanese government, extends from Prek Kdam in Kandal province to Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province, at a total cost of $709 million.

She accentuated the crucial role of median strip construction in accident prevention, adding that the upgrade has curtailed accidents on this portion of the road by 32 per cent.

Manabu Ohno, a JICA consultant, said the NR5 project targets four key areas: improving research and analytical capacity, site-specific engineering assessments, law enforcement and public awareness through traffic safety education.

JICA’s three-year “2022 to 2025 Improvement of Road traffic safety on Trunk Roads” emphasises road safety on primary routes.

It includes accident investigation training and the development of a guide for law enforcement. Efforts also encompass the promotion of behavioral change, with a focus on guidelines for strategies and precautionary education for students.

He highlighted the core principles of the “3E project” – engineering, enforcement, and education – as pivotal in traffic management, but expressed concerns about the rising trend of accidents on the highway during the project’s tenure.

Tong Borith, deputy director of the Department of Education at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, highlighted the importance of long-term educational strategies.

He cited a survey which revealed that 77 per cent of students in eight secondary schools in Kampong Chhnang province had experienced or narrowly avoided accidents on NR5.

Initiatives like incorporating traffic safety into primary school social studies and collaborating with JICA to embed these subjects into morals and civics classes at the secondary level brings hope, he explained.

“Implementing this initiative from primary through high school could potentially eliminate accidents,” said Borith.

According to Manvy, the current number of registered vehicles in the country exceeds 7 million. This includes more than 1 million cars and trucks, complemented by an estimated 6 million motorcycles and tuk-tuks, representing an increase of over 400 per cent since 2010.

“The surge in vehicle registrations can be credited to the nation’s stable and peaceful environment. These are not mere assertions by the government,” she said.

“Based on last month’s data, only nine fatalities occurred on NR5 since the initiation of JICA’s project,” she added.