Having spent over a year and a half in Cambodia, much of which has been behind the handlebars of one motorbike or another, I feel it’s time to pass on a few thoughts and observations on Cambodian traffic.
- Helmets. All motorcyclists MUST wear helmets. Passengers, in front or in back, are exempt for some reason. Compulsory helmets isn’t a bad thing either, having had a couple of ‘nasty’ accidents in Thailand I welcome, but admittedly don’t always obey, this relatively new law. Unlike Thailand too, this law applies to locals as well. many is the time I’ve seen Khmers handing over money at the checkpoints. The fine varies between 5k and 7k Riel, though one Policeman did say “up to you” when I was last stopped!
- Mirrors. Motorcycles MUST have both mirrors. Not strictly enforced at the moment, but don’t be surprised if you have an extra fine for it. If you are renting a motorcycle, make sure it comes with mirrors.
- Driving Licenses. A new law that is being enforced in Phnom Penh is you must have a Cambodian Driving License. These are available from any Driving School and cost between 40 and 55 dollars according to reports. You may be requested to take the Driving Test or your valid License from your home Country may suffice. Rumours are that International Driving Licenses are accepted, but since mine clearly stated that Cambodia was not covered, I have my doubts. Failure to have a licence (in Phnom Penh) can result in a fine of 50 dollars or even a couple of months in prison. To my knowledge, this law is not enforced in Sihanoukville ….. yet.
- Which side? Confusing at best this one. Same as America and mainland Europe, they drive / ride on the Right Hand side of the road here ….. most of the time. Don’t be too shocked to see people coming at you ‘head on’ when traveling down a dual carriageway though!
- Lights. Apparently it’s against the law to have your lights on full beam during the daylight hours, using low beam, whilst not unlawful is generally advised against. Judging by the number of scooter riders traveling without lights at night, you’d think the same laws applied then too.
- Traffic Lights. These have been seen in Phnom Penh for some time, but we’ve recently had major investment (at least 5 sets) here in Sihanoukville. Going through a Red Light is against the law (like you didn’t know) and can result in a fine of up to 2 dollars. At many of the junctions where lights have been installed, they have two white lines traversing the carriageway. This is classed as a Pedestrian Walkway and you should not stop your vehicle here.
- Speeding. Unlike Thailand, speeding isn’t really a problem here in Cambodia. If you see anyone driving fast, it’s probably a westerner at the wheel. That said, they are bringing out new laws to combat Speeding. Offenders will be fined on a sliding scale depending on how much they were over the speedlimit. That said, if you can spot any Maximum Speed Signs, you have better eyes than me. Maybe these will appear soon, maybe they wont. In general though, the Maximum speed for motorbikes in towns is 30km/h, for cars it’s 40km/h. Outside of town it’s 90km/h for Bikes and Cars, Trucks are limited to 60km/h and 50km/h if pulling a trailer.
- Drink Driving. Again, no rule is currently in effect to deal with this, although it is a problem, and I don’t mean spilling your beer under heavy braking! Plans are a-foot though to deal with this offence. Apparently, you will be taken to the Police Station and requested to ‘sleep it off’. Once sober, you will be allowed to go. I’m sure you’ll be leaving with a ‘lighter’ wallet though.
General Road Safety
Getting around amidst the traffic in Cambodia is, at first, a scary thing it has to be said. At a glance, it looks as if there is complete confusion and it’s hard to imagine why there aren’t more accidents. After a while though, you realise that due to the lack of speed the cars, bikes and trucks are able to merge and flow together then, amazingly emerge unscathed on the other side. Much like a box of snakes, they don’t go banging heads too often either.
Horns Horns Horns! The first think you’ll notice about the road users here, is their love of ‘horns’. The blaring is constant from very early morning till dusk. They are used as a “I’m coming through and there’s no stopping me” warning, and never used in conjunction with a ‘slowing down’ manouvre.
Amazingly however, and most welcome, is the attitude general attitude of vehicle users here. You never see deliberate ‘badness’ such as cutting up, tail-gating etc and even after an collision, things very seldom get ‘heated’.
People here drive the way they do, and though it may seem confusing, wrong and even dangerous to visitors, accidents are relatively few and motoring related deaths are rare , well, outside of the major holidays anyway, when the serious drinking takes place.
In the event of an Accident
If the accident involves damage to property only, there is no need to call or inform the Police, if however anyone is injured then the Police must be called immediately.
Here’s where things get a little bit grey. Generally, if two Khmers have an accident together then the one with the least Government or ‘Official’ connections will be the one to pay, no matter if they caused the accident or not.
If you are involved in an accident with a Khmer, your fault or not, then chances are you’ll have to pay your own costs and probably something for the Khmer as well. After all, if you weren’t in Cambodia, the accident wouldn’t have happened!
Everything above is based on experience and knowledge of a few of the traffic laws applicable to Cambodia. Your experience may well be different! Let me know if it has been.
If you would like the full “un-official’ translation of the Khmer Driving / Traffic Laws, you can find and download a copy here.