In its inaugural toll-free month, the Phnom Penh-Sihanouk Expressway received about 20,000 vehicles daily and no shortage of growing pains, with some drivers speeding, driving on the wrong side of the road and stopping in the emergency lane to take pictures, a spokesperson for the Transport Ministry said Friday.
The $2-billion expressway opened toll-free for the month of October, allowing all types of vehicles and motorcycles above 500 cc to drive 70 km/h along the 190-km expressway.
Since then, many drivers have shown themselves to be unfamiliar with driving on highways, spokesman Pal Chandara said.
A video posted on the Phnom Penh-Sihanouk Expressway’s official Facebook page Thursday shows a Toyota Prius driving left and right on the expressway in an attempt to keep the vehicle behind it from passing. Other photos show truck and SUV cars driving opposite the flow of traffic.
Heang Sotheayuth, director general of technology and public relations at the ministry, said that 13 minor traffic accidents had occurred on the expressway as of October 26.
Police are searching for the Prius driver who was captured driving erratically to block the car behind it, he added.
Another video shows a group of four people jumping over the barrier on the side of the road before one of them lies down in the middle of the expressway, smiling, while yet another shows a hammock strung up along the median.
Ministry spokesperson Chandara told VOD that the ministry is worried about the prospect of more accidents unless drivers change their behavior. The ministry is planning more digital campaigns with educational videos and posters aimed at informing drivers how to use the expressway correctly.
“The majority of drivers do not know how to use this road yet and this could cause dangerous accidents. We are so worried about that,” said Chandara.
“It will take a bit of time to change their behavior,” he added.
The daily 20,000 or so vehicles currently using the expressway is expected to increase once improvement work on National Road 4 begins, which is expected in mid-November or early December. Already, a team of 18 highway patrol police officers have been working 24-hour shifts to manage the traffic on the expressway, watching for violations through 200 security cameras.
“So those who are speeding, be careful — they will be fined,” he warned.
Before the expressway opened, people were spotted breaking its barbed wire fencing in order to graze their cows and sell food to drivers. But nearby residents have “gotten used to” the expressway and largely stopped the activities, Chandara said, allowing previous signs such as “no axes” that discouraged people from cutting down nearby forestry to be removed.
For the month of November, vehicles will be charged a toll to drive on the road but will receive 20% off until October 2023. Drivers will be charged different fees depending on the class of their vehicle.
Kong Ratanak, a former director of the Institute for Road Safety, said the ministry and the expressway company have been active in informing drivers of how to use the road, but that some drivers still appear to be careless.
“They seem to enjoy the new big road. They are speeding fast and paying less attention while driving. And that is the problem,” Ratanak said. “The ministry, however, should continue educating people about it.”