Apr 14 2011

Preparing for the worst: Traffic accidents in Cambodia

Published by at 12:28 pm under Health & safety

Getting into a traffic accident anywhere is serious, but in Cambodia it’s particularly so. In the evenings, many drivers are distracted, intoxicated and not particularly swayed by the few stoplights the town has to offer.

Cambodian roads can vary considerably in quality

Cambodian roads can vary considerably in quality

The only traffic laws that are regularly enforced are ones that involve small fines for improper licenses or lack of rear-view mirrors, rather than more serious moving violations like speeding or drunk driving. And what’s most frightening is that the number of fatalities are growing as Cambodia continues to develop — new sealed roads allow for faster speeds and more traffic deaths. Medical services haven’t kept pace with the road work, though, and going to a hospital here can be just as dangerous as driving.

One only has to spend a few days cruising around Phnom Penh before seeing at least a few traffic accidents, ranging from minor to major.

During my first week in Phnom Penh I saw a group of freshie boy-types drive their car directly into a moto driver. After being thrown to the ground, the man dragged himself up, clearly in pain. The car full of young men began honking and threatened to run the man over again if he didn’t move his now destroyed moto out of their path. I wrote down their license number — thinking, with the naivete of a new expat, that I could report it — only to find out that there’s generally no enforcement and no punishment, especially when the perpetrators are the sort of connected young men that can afford cars.

Looks can be deceiving: Cambodian roads often appear little trafficked

Looks can be deceiving: Cambodian roads often appear little trafficked

I hate that I’ve become the type of person that acts like an adult, but after hearing some of the most recent horror stories of expats or tourists that have been involved in traffic accidents through no fault of their own, and being thrown from a moto myself this week, I’ve vowed to make more of an effort to keep myself safe.

Here are some tips:

Get insured
This may seem obvious. Having insurance is really important, yet a huge percentage of my friends are living in Phnom Penh without insurance of any kind. If you come from a country with national health care, travel insurance may be enough to cover you if you have a serious accident, because they will send you back to your home country. If you’re from a country that doesn’t have health care (I’m looking at you, America) you need to get a real insurance policy.

Driving quickly and carelessly are often the norm

Driving quickly and carelessly are often the norm

For travel insurance I’ve used World Nomads. For an expat policy, I went with Aetna Global Benefits Major Medical Plan purchased through insurance agent AG Cambodia. They recommended Major Medical only because the cost of outpatient care is cheap enough in Cambodia that insurance is really only necessary for major accidents.

Be prepared
Organise your information. If you were hit by a truck, would your friends know where your insurance information is stored, who your emergency contact is and whether or not they should call your mother? Sending a group email to a few people you trust can mean that your tuk tuk driver isn’t the only one there to make life and death decisions for you.

Have these numbers on hand
Police: 117 (from landlines), T: (023) 366 841; (023) 720 235 (from mobiles)
Fire: 118 (from landlines), T: (023) 723 555 (from mobiles)
Ambulance: 119 (from landlines) T: (023) 724 891 (from mobiles)
Tourist police: T: (012) 942 484

Try and remember these numbers because if you’re the victim of a traffic accident, odds are good that your phone will be stolen while you’re bleeding out on the pavement.

Helmets are not worn as often as they should be

Helmets are not worn as often as they should be

Because most medical treatment is piss-poor in Cambodia, having an idea of where you’d like to get care before you’re in an accident is a good idea. If your accident is serious, you will need to go to Bangkok or Singapore.

Local options include International SOS, the one clinic in town that is to “international standards”, although some reports indicate that they still leave a lot to be desired. (T: (012) 816 911). Royal Rattanak is affiliated with Bangkok Hospital and is said to operate at Thai standards. There are many reports of expats who have been quite happy with the level of care they received there. (T: (023) 99 1000). See other options here.

Vehicle maintenance isn't always what it could be

Vehicle maintenance isn't always what it could be

Embassies in Phnom Penh
Your embassy can advocate for you and help contact your loved ones.

Australia Embassy: T: (023) 213 470
US Embassy: For emergencies during business hours call (023) 728 281; (023) 728 051; (023) 728 234. Outside of normal business hours call (023) 728 000
UK Embassy: T: (023) 427124. Outside of normal business hours call (023) 427 124; (023) 428 153

See a fuller list of embassies on Travelfish.org here.

My final advice is that if you choose to ride motos, even as a passenger, please wear a helmet and don’t be afraid to get off if you realise the driver is intoxicated. None of us want to see your pretty brains splashed all over Sisowath Quay this weekend.

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11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Preparing for the worst: Traffic accidents in Cambodia”

  1. AbigailatPenhandInkon 14 Apr 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Very sensible article! It’s so easy to get complacent here, and do as the locals do. But it’s good to be reminded that the locals get their brains splattered or their legs broken, or worse.

  2. Maeveon 14 Apr 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Great article Lina. Well informed and completely necessary for all of us to know. Hup!

  3. Simon Oliveron 15 Apr 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Good post – medical insurance is probably one of the most talked about and at the same time dull conversations we have as expats.

    Glad that David at AG could help you out.

  4. Linaon 16 Apr 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I do feel conflicted about those who just have travel insurance as long-term expats, because it does seem like the insurance company could refuse claims based on residency. But since they don’t, I guess it’s okay for those with national health schemes.

    Thanks for the tip, Simon. You can get the same rates from purchasing with Aetna direct but I think it’s helpful to have a good insurance agent like David to help explain the ins and outs of the policy.

  5. Adamon 21 Apr 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I met some Cambodian friends who told me that their son of 23 years of age was involved in a motorbike accident.

    Apparently the police want USD 500 before they release him; if they don’t pay, he will be sent to prison.

    Is it like this in Cambodia ?

  6. Linaon 21 Apr 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Adam: I hear of things like that happening quite often here! It often happens when someone is at fault in an accident — they are held until they pay their way out. That said, the victims in accidents are often left to die if they don’t pay as well.

  7. Adamon 21 Apr 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Lina, thanks so much for your quick reply !

  8. guillaumeon 08 May 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Yes very all…
    I’m a french men living in Phnom Penh and I can read (tik tik) english… sorry for my primary speaking…
    I have moto and very powerfull car then I drive… and kwnow perfectelly that about U speak because in a feew month ago, I cummule 20 years in Cambodia.
    No insurance… And I can justify!!! But U convainc me, and tomorow I think that I go to contract one. It’s certainelly not a real protection, but U perfectlly right…

    in one other hand, That is very hard and I dont now if myself I can do that (never have problem) Becarfull All’s… If U have accident and U hurt or kill some peaple… that is very dangerous to stay at the place. At the begining all is quite and U think (whis you troma) that all happen well… And some minutes later, like peaple enjoye, one of them comme to kill you! That easy and like that fini problem!!

    Then, you have to go! not stay… Go to the police or hospital, indeed! After you can solve the pb. U stay probably one night in jail and have proces. Shure U have to pay. (or your Insurance) but have to do like that. I know so many peaple change the way and payed directelly police for exemple… That’s less expansive for your accompt, but not for your head/life.

    Wy I was negativ for insurance? Just because I know before that they go to négoce directelly whith the familly. Cambodia souffered so much on the fact that nobody apply regulation. More exactelly it’s some peaple do that. and expat especially… Only for me, why never the police stop me? but really never… My matricule 008 has be given by the city all where i’m working during 15 years… That is problem! A big problem for Cambodia. I don’t know to explaine in english, but u can be shure that i don’t like. Or maby I never do mistake !!!!!! humm


  9. […] some of the reasons a traveller may need to see a doctor in Cambodia: traffic accidents (be prepared); dengue fever, which is all over town at the moment; sexually-transmitted infections or diseases, […]

  10. Trixieon 07 Mar 2013 at 4:48 pm

    My husband, son and I were in an accident about 20 km outside Sihanoukville. A motorbike with a man and boy went in front of our taxi and the man was killed. The boy was injured. The police igored us and our taxi man was put in jail for life. We would like to give statements but have been told the only way is to go back to Cambodia to the American Embassy. Do you think this is wise? Would it help?

  11. Abigail Gilberton 09 Mar 2013 at 5:39 am

    Very sorry to hear about your accident. Unfortunately, these incidents are too common on Cambodian roads. It’s difficult for me to give a judgement on whether coming back to Cambodia would be wise or helpful, as I don’t know the full circumstances of the accident, the investigation or the trial.

    I’m assuming you are an American citizen – I would recommend getting in touch with the American Embassy in Phnom Penh and taking some advice from them on how to approach this. It sounds as though the legal route has already been followed, so you’d be looking at an appeal process.

    If it’s the taxi driver and his family you are concerned about, perhaps you could find an intermediary to pass on some financial assistance?

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