Many drivers in Cambodia are just plain bad.
With automobiles only slowly coming into vogue following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge early in 1979 together with widespread poverty, Cambodians came to cars gradually. It shows.
I once stood for a full five minutes watching in disbelief as a homeowner drove out of his garage, creeping an inch forward and inch backward into the street so afraid and unskilled was he behind the wheel of a car.
Although traffic and probably a measure of fear have many drivers in the capital poking along at something like 20 mph (32 kph), some also play the game of who has the loudest horn when approaching intersections, of which the vast majority lack stoplights.
On a more serious note, the number of highway accidents and fatalities unsurprisingly is numbingly high — more than 2,000 deaths a year in a small nation where alcohol often is associated with collisions.
Incredibly, Prime Minister Hun Sen recently suspended as too costly the newly mandatory issuance or renewal of driver’s licenses. Considering that not even 10 per cent of motorbike riders always had been unlicensed, that is saying something. He subsequently ruled that operators of motorbikes and motorcycles with engines smaller than 125 cc never need to obtain a license.
(Requirements seem to be changing weekly as officials discover that their edicts are unworkable, and this post may not be up to date as a result. Helmets are now demanded of all riders on a moto, but I think the new maximum of three riders — in a country where as many as five, including parents with children, is common — has been dropped, among other measures.
(The laws don’t seem to matter much since they are enforced haphazardly anyway.)
The digression aside, the point of this short post is to demonstrate the awkward ballets in which gesticulating parking attendants commonly indulge drivers who are squeezing into parking spaces or fearfully backing out of them. Their gestures may verge on athletic and must often appear to drivers as mysterious if they are visible to them at all. I have to say some of their signals strike me as more entertaining than helpful.
It is not unusual to see folks perched high on their SUVs lining up to await instructions, even for a straightforward maneuver.
Below, a few more examples of how parking attendants operate, often literally at a full run in a scramble to be one of many who compete with each other so as to be handed a 25- or 50-cent note in riel, the local currency. The tips are compensation for their directions and the security that the attendants offer: