PHNOM PENH - Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Cambodia, destroying not only lives but national morale, dignity, property and development efforts, a road safety expert told the Hello VOA call-in program on Wednesday.
In 2015, traffic accidents killed 2,265 people and injured more than 15,000, 40 percent of whom were seriously injured, said Ear Chariya, director of Cambodia's Institute for Road Safety.
Although there was a 10 percent drop in deaths during the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, traffic accidents remain the leading killer in Cambodia and one of the major challenges for national development, he added.
Cost of accidents
According to a 2013 study by U.S.-based Handicap International, traffic accidents cost the government $337 million that year, equal to about 3 percent of gross domestic product.
Chariya explained that this cost includes destruction of vehicles and roads, administrative costs such as medical expenses, and other related health-care expenses, court service fees and non-productivity costs.
The dramatic costs of traffic accidents create a number of difficult consequences for families and society at large, he said.
The provision of medical treatments and other health-care services is a huge burden for the government, with some of the injured needing treatment for more than a year, while others become permanently disabled.
He added that some seriously injured victims need physical rehabilitation services, which require substantial time and expense.
Physical damage destroys not only the victims’ mental and spiritual strength, said Chariya, but also impacts the mental well-being of family members.
Traffic accident victims sometimes develop mental illnesses and suffer other psychological effects due to loss of body parts and diminished self-image. Victims who develop serious mental health issues require counseling services, which he described as expensive and often inadequate.
Some children are orphaned by accidents.
So acute are secondary effects of the Southeast Asian country's dangerous roadways, Chariya said, that traffic accidents significantly disrupt Cambodia's Millennium Development Goals, the first of which is to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.”
More than 80 percent of fatalities are men between the age of 15 and 35 years old, he said, explaining that most of them are the head of their households, which means their deaths often create financial instability for surviving family members.
According to research conducted in 2010, traffic accidents caused a 21 percent reduction in earnings for middle-income families.
For low-income families, the effect is even more severe. Many spend years trying to pay off debts incurred as a result of accidents. The destruction of motorbikes in traffic accidents cost even surviving victims dearly, as they have often sold land and cattle to buy the vehicles. “They fall into poverty in a blink,” Chariya said.
Traffic accidents also have a strong impact on education, he added. When the heads of the families die or become disabled, children often drop out of school to help ease the burden on family. Research shows that the dropout rate increases to 30 percent among victims’ families.
“If our country has a number of drivers who do not respect traffic signs and lights, [foreigners] can judge at least on the surface that our country is full of law abusers,” he said. “It also shows the government’s inability to enforce [traffic] laws, [and its] ineffective judicial system and corruption.”
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer service.