When Greig Craft first arrived in Vietnam in 1989, he saw a country on the cusp of enormous change and a place where, as the standard of living and the use of motorised vehicles increased, young people were dying and suffering severe injuries on the roads every day.
Horrified by what he saw, he studied the situation intensively and realised that he had an opportunity to truly make a difference. In 1999, he established the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIP) to address the crisis on Vietnam’s roads.
AIP is an NGO dedicated to decreasing road casualties in low- and middle-income countries by providing safety interventions for motorists.
As a country undergoing a similar change, Cambodia now faces the same dilemma. Preventable road accidents kill far too many people each year.
AIP started operating in Cambodia in 2006. In 2011, it registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and opened a local office.
Im Piseth, AIP’s programme manager, tells The Post that before the NGO had an office, it would operate through other entities, including other NGOs and businesses.
Over several years, the NGO built strong relationships with public and private institutes in Cambodia.
“Through the years, we have worked with governments, corporations, foundations, and others to implement life-saving interventions and protect those most vulnerable to road crashes and their consequences.
“We work closely with the ministries of Interior; Public Works and Transport; Education, Youth and Sport, the coalition for road safety and Manulife insurance to let them carry out the work for us,” Piseth says.
Fixing human errors
Piseth stresses that most injuries could be prevented by obeying traffic laws.
“Since 2006, our goal has been to enhance the practice of traffic laws as well as educate all drivers on road safety,” he says Piseth says many road accidents in Cambodia result from human error.
“According to the 2019 statistics of the National Road Safety Committee, it’s divided into human factors, vehicles [not properly inspected], infrastructure and weather.
“But the biggest factor is the human one, which is divided into many risky driving practices. Speeding is the number one cause, which led to 38 per cent [of road accidents].
“Not respecting the right of way on roads caused 23 per cent of accidents, overtaking dangerously (nine per cent), turning illegally (nine per cent), drunk driving (five per cent), vehicle problems (two per cent), and fatigue (one per cent),” he says.
With the cooperation of the authorities and Open Development Cambodia, an NGO which shares useful data with the public, AIP has implemented policies and distributed helmets to motorcyclists throughout the Kingdom.
Protecting factory workers and farmers
AIP has visited factories, communities in the countryside, schools, universities and stops along national roads.
“According to statistics, farmers are the most vulnerable victims. Second are factory workers and third, university students,” says Piseth.
Having worked at AIP for almost 10 years, he says the reason farmers have been involved in so many accidents is that many of them don’t know the traffic laws.
They usually travel on the trails in their small villages and when they reach the main road, they do not look behind or in front of them before they turn, and this frequently causes accidents.
Factory workers frequently ride in unsafe and overloaded vehicles and their factories are typically located near increasingly busy national roads.
“Hence, we recently started to visit our target factories where an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 workers are directly employed in the garment and footwear sector. We’ve been able to reach about 200,000 workers.
“We’ve been thinking of how to help them improve their riding. We hope to do something about the trucks they’ve been using, which are not safe at all. If they can make them more comfortable for the workers, that would play a big part in reducing accidents.
“It would be especially nice to have a proper seat, a roof and something to protect them so they can ride comfortably in the vehicle. Moreover, we can put traffic signs around factory areas to help them to be more cautious,” Piseth says.
AIP, he says, has handed out educational materials on road safety to universities and at stops along national roads 1, 4 and 6.
“We’ve been promoting the use of helmets and road safety [to drivers] while they stopped at traffic lights with help from police officials and youth volunteers. They helped us hand out leaflets and stickers instructing about the traffic law.”
AIP has selected 20 to 30 students from different universities to help with the programme. The students are first brought up to speed on traffic laws before being tasked with educating people at their universities and communities.
“We always follow up to see how well people have comprehended [our teachings] and put them into practice by appointing members to conduct a census in each community we’ve reached out to,” he says.
Spreading the word
He says the programme has gained wide support and people have expressed interest in joining.
“However, we also have faced some challenges. We haven’t been able to meet with everyone we were supposed to meet. Mostly, the elders are often forgetful. Others, especially the youths, are at work.
“Despite this, we still go into their workplaces or downtown to educate them,” Piseth says.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, AIP has also taught about virus prevention methods.
Piseth says his and AIP’s vision is to see all Cambodians strictly following traffic laws in the future, similar to what is seen in more developed countries.
“In the hope of reducing road accidents in the nation, we need the cooperation of all citizens. We hope our people continue to stick to the law and forgive each other on the road. I can see how forgivable they are when they happen to bump into one another, but we are not satisfied.
“We want them to discipline themselves, strictly obey traffic laws in the country and respect each other to prevent road accidents,” Piseth says.