Drivers Don’t See Red With New Traffic Lights in Capital

The traffic light was unmistakably red.

But the drivers on Sisowath Quay, stretching along Phnom Penh’s riverside, on Wednesday afternoon were either oblivious to its meaning or choosing to ignore it. The traffic continued to flow as smoothly as the Tonle Sap river running adjacent to the road.

Motorists drive through a red light along Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh earlier this week. (Phan Soumy/The Cambodia Daily)

The much-trumpeted lights have caused excitement at City Hall.

These are no ordinary traffic lights, but “smart lights” that can be synchronized and controlled back at traffic HQ.

The trouble is that some drivers in the city don’t seem to have gotten the hang of them yet.

Driving down from the Royal Palace, motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cars openly breezed through red lights with no sign of a brake light. In some cases, car drivers had dutifully stopped at the signal, only for other vehicles to ignore it and overtake.

In almost concerning scenes near Wat Ounalom, the red and green lights caused several near misses as no one appeared sure who had the right of way. An orange “turn left” signal added to the confusion.

Further down the road at the corner of Street 110, it was a similar story. Sar Rit, 54, a tuk-tuk driver, said he had stopped at the red light but many hadn’t. “Maybe they didn’t look at it,” he said. He had a point. Drivers in the capital are not used to looking up while navigating the city.

Sitting on a bench watching it all unfold, Seng Nat, 34, originally from Kampot province,said pedestrians had it hard. “It can be dangerous. Some people stop and some others do not—they keep going,” she said. Her theory is that drivers fail to stop because it’s too hot or they’re in a hurry.

According to Article 62 of the Traffic Law, it is an offense to fail to observe a red traffic light, punishable by suspension of a driving license for a period not exceeding seven days and a three point deduction.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said some drivers might not yet be familiar with the new traffic lights.

“When the traffic is installed, it equals as law. It has to be obeyed, even if it was just installed an hour ago,” he said.

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