Since Myanmar opened in 2011, a relaxation of vehicle import rules has resulted in an extra 300,000 vehicles on the country’s roads. The influx of cars and trucks, mainly second-hand vehicles from Japan, has created congestion on Yangon’s streets and challenges for traffic management. Mizzima Business Weekly’s Hans Hulst spoke to Police Lieutenant-Colonel Lin Htut, who as Superintendent of the No 2 Traffic Police Force unit is responsible for road rule enforcement in Yangon, about a rise in road accidents, driver education and the challenges facing traffic police in Myanmar’s biggest city.
What are the main duties of the Yangon Traffic Police force?
Basically we have two tasks: to make Yangon’s streets safer by taking measures to prevent accidents and regulate traffic and to enforce traffic rules. We observe traffic to see if drivers obey the rules or not. In case of an accident our inspection officer will investigate on the scene. If needed, we arrest and charge drivers who break the rules. By educating drivers we also hope to prevent accidents.
The number of road accidents in Yangon rose 19.8 percent in the first seven months of 2014 over the same period last year. What are the reasons for the deteriating road safety situation?
The number of vehicles on the roads has risen dramatically over the last few years and drivers lack discipline. We looked into it, there are four main causes for accidents: vehicle failure, road conditions, human error, and weather conditions, for example during the rainy season, when visibility is often low. Of these human error is by far the most prominent. To reduce accidents we need to raise awareness and educate drivers about traffic rules and regulations. The traffic police lacks the money to run these programs. Therefore we would like to invite non-government organisations and international NGOs to cooperate with us on this important issue. Government departments should support our education efforts too.
Are all drivers in Myanmar properly licensed?
We can only inspect and take action, if needed. The Road Transport Administration Department, under the Ministry of Railway Transportation, is responsible for licensing.
Is the Traffic Police Force budget sufficient?
We employ 1,000 traffic police officers, which is not enough. We are understaffed. True, we have CCTV cameras on some intersections, but this alone is insufficient. We need more traffic police in the streets.
Who controls the CCTV cameras and the traffic lights?
The traffic lights are controlled by the YCDC [Yangon City Development Committee], with whom we have a good working relationship. The traffic police control the CCTV cameras. It is not ideal, though. The cameras work with USB sticks, there is no live monitoring from a control centre. We need to remove the UBS stick manually and then watch the images [to detect traffic law violations]. There is always a delay.
How many extra officers do you need?
I’m not going to put a number on that now. Only after we have done proper research we can say in earnest how many extra staff we need.
In June traffic police officers were issued with Tasers. Why are these electric stunning devices needed?
In some cases traffic police officers are assaulted. We need Tasers to protect ourselves. To give you an example, a man was driving a motorcycle in downtown Yangon, which is illegal. When our officers tried to arrest him, he attacked the officers with a knife. He was subsequently sentenced to seven years imprisonment. It shows we need to be able to defend ourselves, but luckily we haven’t had to use the Tasers yet.
Traffic police are under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Where does your budget come from?
From the Union budget mostly. We don’t get a percentage anymore of the fines that are levied. The fines go to the Traffic Rules Enforcement Supervisory Committee. Sometimes the regional government gives us a ‘bonus’. If we need extra equipment we can apply for it to be paid for out of the collected funds.
It can’t be that much, because traffic fines are low.
They are low, indeed. Myanmar’s traffic law dates from 1964. In my opinion traffic fines should be increased substantially. The authorities are preparing for the introduction of new fines at the moment. I don’t know when these new fines will be introduced. The Road Transport Administration Departrment is making progress. We have to wait and see.
Traffic jams have become a serious problem in Yangon. What can be done to alleviate them?
In my opinion public transportation is very important. Too many people have bought private cars, causing congestion. Better public transportation systems – either BRT [bus rapid transit] or MRT [mass rapid transit] – are needed to solve this. More overpasses need to be built as well. If somebody crosses the street this causes traffic jams. Road vendors sometimes block the sidewalks, forcing people onto the road, which is dangerous and can cause congestion. I suggest road vendors are put in central markets.
You don’t give interviews often. What is the main message you would like to give our readers?
Road users need knowledge. We should start early, at school, and explain the rules and regulations. If drivers know the rules and commit to obey them this well help to improve road safety greatly.
Source: MIZZIMA Myanmar