The prevalence of drunk driving in Cambodia has escalated to a critical point, resulting in tragic consequences for innocent lives. A poignant incident on January 20, 2024, underscores the urgent necessity for decisive action to confront this troubling issue.
On the mentioned date, a heavily intoxicated man callously drove a pickup off a bridge, leading to the devastating deaths of four students. The students had momentarily paused at a red traffic light, their lives abruptly cut short by the irresponsible actions of a driver under the influence.
The incident triggered widespread outrage, compelling the Cambodian government, acting through the general national police commissioner, to take rapid and stringent measures. To combat the menace of drunk driving, authorities implemented random alcohol checks across all Khan (districts) in Phnom Penh.
The government’s response is anchored in the existing legal framework, particularly Traffic Law Article 85, which stipulates that driving with an alcohol level of 0.40 mg per liter of breath or 0.8 g per liter of blood resulting in a victim’s death constitutes a serious offense. Offenders could face imprisonment for two to five years and fines ranging from 10,000,000 Riel (approximately USD 2,500) to 25,000,000 Riel (approximately USD 6,250).
Despite the existence of this legal article, the enforcement has been sporadic, often prompting controversial opinions from various quarters, from ordinary citizens to high-ranking officials. Debates around economic status and personal freedoms emerged, with some arguing that individuals with financial means felt entitled to bend the rules.
However, although people are legally free to drink, it doesn’t give them liberty to drive under the influence of alcohol, as explicitly outlined in the above articles. Respecting the lives of fellow travelers on the streets and their right to life and to be free from harm is paramount.
The point of contention
In response to a tragic incident that claimed the lives of four students, the alcohol industry adjusted its promotional strategy by offering free Grab rides home after 10 pm. While it may seem like a gesture of social responsibility, it falls short of fully embodying that concept. For example, Hanuman Beer offers free rides using Grab from 10 pm to 11 pm, as seen in a video on its page in late January as its social responsibility. However, it’s important to note that the largest number of traffic accidents (33 percent) occurs between 18:00 and 22:00, with most happening on Sundays (17 percent), followed by Saturdays (16 percent), and Mondays (14 percent), according to IATSS Research (Volume 42, Issue 4, December 2018, Pages 163-170).
While Hanuman Beer’s initiative gives the image of encouraging responsible behavior and reduction of drink driving, it primarily promotes higher consumption of alcohol rather than offering a comprehensive solution to the drink driving issue and may contribute to increases in domestic violence or other alcohol-related harm.
Contradictorily, the effectiveness of the government’s response is evidenced by a public outcry, exerting pressure for law enforcement measures, while concurrently, law enforcement has increased checkpoints to monitor drink driving after the outcry. Consequently, some individuals have opted for non-alcoholic beverages, signaling a cultural shift in socializing at restaurants, clubs, and bars, according to observations from the PDP-Center.
In the case of the driver responsible for the tragic deaths of the four students, forensic evidence revealed an alcohol level of 0.54 liters of breath. This places him squarely within the range specified by the law, necessitating the application of stringent penalties and imprisonment outlined in the legal framework. On January 23, 2024, the suspect was promptly detained, awaiting court process (VOA Khmer 24/01/2024). To ensure justice and accountability and reduce the devastating consequence of drink driving, the legal system must commit to take the same significant action for each case and stop the entitlement of some groups.
Disturbingly, the incident reflects a broader issue, as 1,590 deaths along the road have been attributed to drunk drivers in the whole year of 2023 (Fresh New 30/01/2024). This alarming statistic underscores the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the pervasive problem of drunk driving in Cambodia.
A call for action
The recent incident serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address the pervasive issue of drunk driving in Cambodia. The government’s proactive measures, combined with strict legal consequences, aim to act as a deterrent against reckless behavior and safeguard the lives of innocent individuals on the roads. As Cambodia mourns the loss of the four students, the hope is that these measures will contribute to a safer and more responsible driving culture in the country.
Written by: Yong Kim Eng, PDP-Center
Funded by, IOGT-NTO Movement