Safety Advocates Push for Motorcycle Passengers to Wear Helmets

A campaign launched yesterday aims to make it mandatory for pillion passengers-and children in particular- to wear helmets on motorbikes, but amendments to enforce such behavior within the traffic law are still being debated and could take at least another year, a road safety expert said yesterday.

“We want to focus on passengers…. Putting a helmet on should be a simple act of caring,” said Mirjam Sidik, executive director of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIPF), which is spearheading the helmet campaign as part of the UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety that kicked off this year.

Children, who are often passengers, are not made to wear helmets by their parents because they are commonly considered “too young,” said Ms Sidik.

“But research shows that from the age of 2, there are quality helmets available that are not too heavy,” she said.

The National Road Safety Committee (NRSC) is working to include passengers and children in the mandatory use of helmets in the traffic law, said the committee’s vice chairman Tauch Chankosal.

“We need to amend the law and the committee is working on that, but I can’t say when, though we hope it is sooner rather than later,” he said, adding that the minimum age requirement for children to wear helmets had yet to be decided.

Sann Socheata, a road safety program manager with Handicap International Belgium (HIB), said the hoped-for amendments could at least another year, and the law could be more effective in enforcing helmet use for passengers and drivers if the fine for noncompliance was raised.

“Fines need to be increased and receipts need to be given out. This is being pushed for at the high levels of the Ministry of Interior. Right now, the fine is only 3,000 riel ($0.75) based on the current law,” Ms. Sann said.

Another issue is the lack of helmet enforcement at night, when the traffic police presence on roads is almost non-existent.

Ms. Sann said HIB conducts research into the use of helmets by drivers and passengers during the day and night in Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kompong Speu, Kompong Cham and Siem Reap provinces every two months.

“There is a very big difference with regard to helmet use during the day and at night,” Ms. Sann said. “In Phnom Penh, about 85 percent of drivers and only 11 percent of passengers wear helmets. At night, that drops to 60 percent for drivers and between 4 to 5 percent for passengers,” adding that accidents during the day and at night were “about 50/50.”

“We fine drivers from 6 to 8 pm, but not the passengers who ride with them, because the amendments to the traffic law have not been approved yet,” said General Kim Yi Deth, deputy secretary-general of the General Commissariat of the National Police at the Ministry of Interior.

Gen. Yi Deth said education and enforcement were useful in encouraging helmet use, but that the real power lay within the traffic law, which he said would be debated again at a meeting today between members of several ministries.

According to Gen. Yi Deth, 44 articles are being debated and about 10 might be introduced.

There have been 3,854 road crashes from January through September–a decrease of 7.64 on the same period the previous year, but fatalities had increased 12.4 percent to 1,448 during that time, Gen. Yi Deth said.

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