Monday, January 4, 2010

Helmet Wearing Rate Increases in Phnom Penh

Road crashes are a major cause of death, injury and disability in Cambodia, especially among young road users. Over the last five years, the number of crashes has increased by 150% and the number of fatalities has almost doubled. Motorcycle riders are particularly vulnerable. 77% of the total number of casualties and 68% of fatalities involved motorcycles. 34% of these casualties are between the ages of 15-24. The lack of helmet wearing among motor cyclists is a major contributing factor to head injuries. Out of the 19,879 motorcycle casualties in 2008, 93% were not wearing helmets. As a result, head injuries accounted for 44% of total injuries. Since June 2008, the helmet wearing rate among motorcycle drivers in Phnom Penh has more than quadrupled from 24% to 85% in August 2009.Latest figures from the Road Crash and Victim Information System show that the helmet wearing increase has led to a nationwide 3% drop in motorcycle crash fatalities due to head injuries (note: helmet enforcement was nationwide, although HIB conducted surveys only in the capital, Phnom Penh)The primary reason for the significant increase in the helmet wearing rates can be attributed to the multi-stakeholder helmet awareness campaign linked with nationwide enforcement of the helmet wearing law for the first time, beginning on January 1st2009, by the Cambodian Traffic Police. The interactive elements of the helmet-wearing promotion campaign sponsored by GRSP, WHO and implemented by HIB and the National Road Safety Committee included: Handicap International Belgium, Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP), WHO in collaboration with the National Road Safety Committee, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health and other partners conducted a road safety awareness campaign targeting the public on the importance of helmet wearing during November to December 2008. This campaign also informed the public of the upcoming enforcement of the helmet laws The Ministry of Interior set the date for helmet wearing enforcement on 1stJanuary 2009. To encourage the police as role models, a distribution of 2000helmets to traffic police officers in all provinces was conducted in November2008;Prior to helmet enforcement, training on professional helmet enforcement techniques for the Traffic Police was conducted by international police experts in December 2008; A distribution of subsidized helmets was conducted to selected high schools in Phnom Penh prior to the helmet enforcement date by the National Road Safety Committee in expectation of increasing helmet wearing due amongst young students; Due to these education and enforcement efforts above, independent surveys conducted before (and after the January 1stenforcement date showed that the helmet wearing rates among motorcycle drivers doubled from 24% in June 2008 to 56% (February 2009).Furthermore, the same survey also demonstrated that attitudes towards helmet wearing also improved with a greater majority stating their belief that helmets are an important safety feature when driving. The project also had unexpected but welcomed multiplier effects in two ways. The success of the activities above convinced other road safety actors both from civil society and the government to prioritizing helmet wearing activities in their long-term road safety strategies; With enforcement, this project gave the Ministry of Interior and the National Traffic Police the motivation and confidence to ramp up enforcement of the helmet law, launched in August2009. The law was strictly enforced, resulting in the current helmet rate of 85%. Challenges remain however. There is no helmet law for motorcycle passengers so the rate remains low. Helmet wearing rates in the rural areas are noticeably lower than in the urban areas. However, as this project has demonstrated, positive impact on behavior and attitude change can be achieved by linking education and enforcement.
text by Sann Socheata, Program Manager.

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