Traffic in Phnom Penh may seem like an accident waiting to happen, but breaking the law will cost you a lot of time and money.

Anyone who has been on the streets of Cambodia on two, three or four wheels knows that it is a matter of all against all. There are municipal ordinances that seem to apply only when the boys in blue are close enough to assess the value of stopping a violator. And like it or not, the foreigner is seen through glasses etched with a dollar sign and will often be stopped for what seems like the most mundane reason.

Just the other week my wife was pulled over for having “a dirty vehicle.” Technically, there’s no law against having a dirty vehicle, as you can probably tell from some trucks that are so covered in provincial red grime or general grime that it’s impossible to identify the original color. Needless to say, she handed over the required $5 fine, largely because our daughter was in the vehicle and it wasn’t worth fighting in the midday heat.

By the way, so to speak. Drivers who are pulled over by police and want to persuade them to obey Cambodian law point out that no traffic fine for a car or truck can exceed 10,000 riels, which is about $2.50. As for motorcycles, it is a manageable 5,000 riel for serious offenses and 2,000 riel for crimes such as running a red light. If more than those sums are demanded, it is up to you to discuss or pay.

However, despite the current chaos and horror stories, there are traffic laws here. Parliament approved a full set of rules in December 2006 and they are being implemented very slowly.

Strangely for Cambodia, unnecessary noise is included in the ordinances, as the use of the horn is only allowed during the day to inform road users of a traffic accident.

Vehicles 49cc and larger need proof of a licensed driver, registration and inspection. There are five license grades: A1 for motorcycles of 49cc-125cc, A2 for motorcycles of more than 125cc and vehicles with a trailer, B for vehicles that carry less than 10 passengers, transport goods of less than 3.5 tons and/or tow less of 0.75 tons. B license holders can also drive the same vehicles as A1 holders but No the same as A2 holders. However, no one can answer how to get a license that allows you to drive large cars and motorcycles.

Motorcycles must have rearview mirrors and drivers must wear a safety helmet.

When a traffic light is yellow, it is a signal to prepare to stop or go. Driving is prohibited if the driver has 0.5 mg of alcohol per liter of gasoline or 0.25 mg per liter of blood. So the reason to drive a big SUV? The maximum speed for vehicles in the city is 30 km/h for all motorcycles and tricycles, and 40 km/h for all cars. Outside the city, the maximum speed for all vehicles is 90 km/h. On motorways (national highways), in the city the maximum is 60 km/h, 100 km/h outside the city.

If you open a car door and cause an accident, you are at fault, and all traffic accidents are “under the jurisdiction of the traffic police.” After an accident, everyone involved should stop and report it to the traffic police.

If there are no injuries, the parties involved can reach an agreement or request the intervention of the police. If there are injuries or deaths, you must help get the victims to a nearby hospital, leave the evidence undisturbed, and wait for the police to arrive. Police officers are authorized to impound your vehicle as well as issue fines or confiscate your license for minor offenses. If you find yourself in such a situation, remain calm and resign yourself to the fact that it will take time to resolve. Bringing copies of the legal code, along with as many people as you can muster, to the police station will help. Cash is of course faster.

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