Now required by the law: Wear a helmet!

by John Einar Sandvand on February 26, 2009

Finally the law in Cambodia is requiring motor bikers to wear helmets. But are they observing the law? Not necessesarily. And nobody cares about the passengers.


A family enjoying a day out in Battambang.

I have taken “motos” – motor bikes – numerous times over the last three weeks. Not one single time I have been offered a helmet by the moto driver.

Quite often the driver will not use a helmet by himself either, which has been required by law since January 1st in this country. A number of times he has kept the helmet between his legs – not showing any sign of using it.

Motor bikes is by far the most common transportation method in Cambodia. It is relatively cheap and also quite fast, especially in city traffic.

But there has been numerous traffic accidents. 4 people are killed every day on Cambodian roads, and the majority suffered head injuries.

Amazingly the new law only requires the moto drivers to wear a helmet, not the passengers. Cambodian motos often will have two, or even three passengers.

Does the new law mean drivers have started using helmets for their own protection? Not necessarily. A great number ignore the law – and some only put the helmet on if they hear about a police control in the area.

Witnessing the ignorance has caused me to reflect:

In my own country – Norway – I would never have dared sit on a motor bike without wearing a helmet. So why do I this smart safety precaution consistently while I am in Cambodia.

  • Reason number one: I don’t have a helmet – and no moto driver has ever offered me one.
  • Reason number two: I find that my sense of what I “ought to do” changes according to the circumstances. In Norway everybody would wear a helmet. In Cambodia no passengers wears one. So I follow the stream. And I do not even worry about the fact that I am not protected.

It is irrational, of course. There is no reason why my sense of security should be different in Phnom Penh than in Oslo. Quite the contrary: The traffic situation in the Cambodian capital is chaotic and unpredictable – at the best.

But I think we all consider our way of behaving according to the cultural conditions of where we are situated. And in Cambodia virtually no motor bike passengers ever wear a helmet.

Still I hope that the law will include also the passengers. Their lives are just as much as risk as the drivers. There is no logic in a law only requiring the drivers, and not the passengers, to wear a helmet.

This has particular importance in a coutry where a lot of the moto passengers are young children.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Pheak Tol February 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm

I’m from Cambodia, but I’ve been living in the United States since I was 4 years old. A few years ago, I went to visit Cambodia (family) for the first time with my mother, and I saw nothing but moto bikes on the streets of Phnom Phen. It was worst than some cities here in the states, I couldnt cross the street without running, ducking and dodging the bikers. But yes none had a helmet on, and with the speed that they’re going, they need to be wearing helmets (drivers and passengers).

I saw a moto bike with more than 3 people on there and the women was holding their babies in their hands just sitting at the back relaxing..i didn’t get used to sitting on the moto bike until almost the day i had to come back home.

But I hope with new laws, and maybe in the future, stricter police enforced control as well that the country can grow and prosper from what it was before with the war torn buildings and community.


nathalie April 4, 2009 at 5:47 am

1) until there's an incentive and capacity for enforcement, laws are useless.
2) poor people don't have the luxury of taking safety precautions, like in norway



nabejero April 6, 2009 at 6:13 am

your post just reminded me. the first part of my above comment didn't paste, then i got cut off the internet before i could fix it. i was going to say:

compliance to the rule of law doesn't auto-follow passed legislation. a perceived return is incentive for self-regulating behaviour eg protection of person and property– if i follow the law it works both ways and i benefit from it through increased safety, security and prosperity. this is a luxury in thought pattern that come with time and economic progress. and then there are the practical constraints to this law being followed. (see post above).



sophia kostoff September 26, 2010 at 2:55 am

Hi, I found your blog randomly searching for photos of cambodian families online. I need to find an image of a family and couple to use in a project that raises awareness about domestic violence. Is there any way you would be willing to assist me with this? Do you have any photos? Could you help me find one? I can pay you for the right image. Thanks/


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