Minister of Interior Sar Kheng outlined a strategy to reduce the use of traffic police officers on the capital’s streets by replacing them with automated technological equipment such as camera systems and traffic sensors instead.

Sar Kheng presented this strategic plan while chairing the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC) meeting held virtually on September 21 and attended by 164 officials from all levels of government to review the road safety work for the first half of the year, with the meeting also doubling as a planning session for the road work over the year’s second half.

He said that based on the daily reports, traffic accidents remain a troubling concern. On average, he said there were about seven traffic accidents per day that killed about four people on average while injuring 10 others.

Therefore, he added, new and more effective measures must be applied, but any new mechanisms or methods must be studied and tested before putting them in place nationwide to ensure that they will actually strengthen road traffic safety rather than exacerbating the problem.

“We cannot just keep recruiting more police officers forever and ever. We need to think about reducing the size of the employment framework for civil servants, including traffic police.

“In order to reduce our manpower requirements, we will need to have equipment, technology, security cameras and road sensors. Our police have to have all of these available to assist them. That is the strategic objective controlling the agenda for this work,” he said.

Sar Kheng said some people respect traffic laws only when they see police officers present on the streets. Regardless of whether education and outreach efforts are successful, he said it is a bedrock principle of law that citizens cannot simply plead ignorance of the law to avoid obedience to it or the consequences of breaking it.

“Our goal is to improve traffic safety. I will not give up on using the traffic police force to do that. But we must not rely too much on the actual human traffic police officers. Otherwise, the framework remains the same. No matter how much Phnom Penh puts into manpower in this area, it will not be successful.

“Our police have to work on traffic at the same time they are doing other things. Therefore, focusing all of our attention on equipping our roads with cameras, signs, traffic sensors and other technology is the best means we have to improve our traffic situation in the capital, and the provinces will do the same,” he said.

Sar Kheng proposed an agreement be negotiated and a period of transition planned before drastically reducing the number of traffic police officers or replacing them entirely with the technology and equipment he mentioned.

“That is not to say that there will be no police officers. The police must always be there but we can reduce the number of officers. Where we used to assign 10 police officers, perhaps now we will only need two of them to do the same job once we have the right technical means in place to automatically catch violators anytime and anywhere.

“Strive to use less manpower and be more efficient,” he concluded.

Kim Pagna, director of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, said while there have been some significant positive developments in efforts to improve road safety in Cambodia, traffic accidents remain one of the most serious challenges for the Kingdom.

“I support [Sar Kheng’s] idea on this because we have many police officers standing on the streets to enforce the law. Deploying a lot of police officers out on the streets has both positive and negative impacts on the city and its public image,” he said.

He said the implementation of new technologies or methods should be done step-by-step to determine the strengths and weaknesses of these plans before expanding nationwide.

“It is possible to take one or two districts and use them as pilot areas to figure out whether it’s a good idea to reduce the size of the police force by replacing them with camera systems and technical equipment and so on. Based on the results, we can then consider expanding this policy gradually across the country,” he said.