Although he has just recovered from his injuries due to a traffic accident, Heng Bunleng, 10, still feels afraid when he sees a car passing by and especially when he sees a traffic accident occur in front of him, which causes him to recoil in horror.
Because of his painful scars, Bunleng does not want to experience or even see traffic accidents ever again. It makes him think back to when he was hit by a car a few months ago while riding back from school, badly injuring his right leg and resulting in its amputation.
Bunleng told The Post that he was the oldest son among his three siblings, and that his mother was a garment worker and his father a farmer living in Svay Run village of Chumreah Pen commune in Takeo province’s Samrong district.
Bunleng recalled that before the Pchum Ben festival in September 2022, he rode his bicycle alone on the road from home to school for about 1km before returning back home at noon. When riding his bicycle home, he had to cross a national road before he could get to his village.
As usual, when he rode his bicycle across the road, he always looked left and right carefully because he was afraid of being hit by a car or motorbike, and at that time he did not see any car or motorbike so he decided to cross the road.
Bunleng said: “I do not know where the car came from, suddenly it came and I fell to the ground and suddenly I felt very hurt in my right leg. I did not know what had happened but there were many people around me, and I also saw my father.”
Hy Bunhak, 30, the father of Bunleng, said his son was paid more than $1,000 by the owner of the Toyota crossover immediately after the accident.
Bunhak then rushed to take his son to a referral hospital in Takeo, but because it did not have the right equipment to treat him, he took him to Cho Ray Phnom Penh Hospital.
Bunhak said his son was admitted to Cho Ray Hospital for one night and one day and he had to pay $500, but his child’s leg was swelling more and more with a great deal of bruising and the doctor there said he already tried his best but he could not do any more.
Very concerned about his son’s health, he took him to Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital, also in the capital. There, doctors rushed to save his son’s life by starting surgery, but also required him to find extra blood for his son.
“At first, the doctors reconnected the arteries in his leg and treated it for a month, but the condition remained the same and he could not move his leg. Then, at first, the doctors decided to cut his leg at the tibia but his flesh kept rotting. Then the doctors decided to cut his whole right leg and they treated it until it healed,” he recalled.
According to the poor father, his son had to be infused with 35 bags of blood, all coming from donations by his relatives. If he had to pay for it, he would not be able to afford it and his son would have died.
Though he was happy that his son survived, he also felt very sorry for him because he had become disabled at such a young age.
Bunhak said he was very sad to see his child like this, but tried to encourage him to do his best to study hard for his future.
“I want people who drive cars or motorcycles to drive carefully and respect traffic laws. It is a great tragedy when a relative dies because of traffic accidents,” he said.
Kim Pagna, director of the Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation, said that according to his study there have been increases in traffic accidents in both Cambodia and neighboring countries.
In Thailand, for example, before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 20,000 people died each year. In Cambodia, in 2019, more than 2,000 people were killed in road accidents.
“We have to acknowledge that in Cambodia we have more than 500,000 registered vehicles per year, 80 to 90 per cent of which are motorcycles. But those who drive the cars and motorbikes are the main problem because they are the drivers on the road. Most motorcyclists are not properly educated [in traffic law]. Under our existing traffic laws, motorcyclists with cylinders of 125cc or less are not required to have a driver’s license,” he noted.
Pagna proposes that the government pursue two main policies: The first is to promote traffic safety education from a young age to cultivate these ideas so that they clearly understand that when they grow up they must be cautious and well-mannered drivers.
“This initiative has been implemented by educational institutions from the first to the ninth grade, but we encourage and urge them to educate up to the 10th or 12th grade or up to the college level,” he said.
The second factor, he said, is to pay attention to the motorcyclists because if the law does not require them to have a driver’s licence, they would remain uneducated about the traffic laws and safe driving.
“So at this point, each institution should check that although you do not require a driver’s licence, you can provide technical training in driving motorcycles to our people, students, workers, citizens, community and civil servants, etc. At this point, we are promoting the initiatives by trying to provide training to trainers before they provide training on this motorcycle driving technique to workers and staff in some factories and schools,” he said.
According to Pagna, education and training are effective but take a long time and the most important thing is strict and regular law enforcement, both day and night, but the law enforcement must be applied transparently, fairly and correctly.
He said that if the law determines how much offenders have to be fined, the drivers must be fined that amount because this issue is related to the confidence of the people in the law enforcement process.
“Otherwise, people may think we are using law enforcement to steal someone’s money,” he added.
Regarding the number of deaths due to traffic accidents, he recalled that there were 2,152 fatalities in 2019 alone. In 2022, according to the police report, there were about 1,704 people, indicating a slight decrease.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, who is also chairman of the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC), once said that in 2022, after the situation of Covid-19 had eased, traffic was back to being busy and road accidents were on the rise with five deaths and 13 injuries per day.
Remarkably, 79 per cent of the fatalities were motorcyclists, with 74 per cent of the deceased helmetless at the time of the accident.
Sar Kheng said that 38 per cent of accidents were caused by speeding, 24 per cent by ignoring the right of way and 11 per cent by not driving on the right side.
Road traffic law violations continue to occur, with 90 per cent helmetless, 52 per cent not wearing a seatbelt and 10 per cent using a mobile phone while driving.
Another main cause is the lack of signs on some national and rural roads, which is still an obstacle making it difficult to drive safely. The other main cause of traffic accidents are transporting of workers in unsafe ways and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.