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No lights on Cambodia

By: Casey Nelson Posted: October-05-2010 in
Casey Nelson

As many new drivers discover the hard way, especially foreign drivers, it is illegal in Cambodia to drive with headlights on during the day.* While in many countries governments are encouraging, even mandating that drivers and especially motorcyclists use headlights during the day for greater visibility to other drivers, here in Cambodia it is a privilege reserved for high government officials only. And for some reason the police have taken this law to heart.

Unlike most Cambodian traffic laws, the no-daytime-headlights law is one of the four or five that the police do actually enforce. Drive a motorcycle one-handed and blind-drunk against traffic on the wrong side of the street with a 25 kilo bag of rice between your legs, a necklace of 30 half-dead ducks dangling from the handlebars and three adults riding pillion with two kids and a baby balancing on their shoulders, and the cops won't blink an eye. But drive with your headlights on during the day and you will be stopped and fined if the police catch sight.

In Sihanoukville I unintentionally violated the no-headlight law. I forgot to flip the light switch off when I parked the bike the night before and didn't notice it was still on when I started it the next morning. I was driving up the main road through town when I got waved over by a group of cops at the roadside. I immediately glanced down to check the switch and seeing it was on I knew what was up. Cambodian police don't give traffic tickets per se. This sort of thing is always settled at the roadside, but it occurred to me that the smallest bill I had in my pocket was a US20, and cops don't give change. This was potentially an expensive traffic stop.

I pulled over and shut off the engine (and the light switch.) The cop sauntered up. Using his limited English he said, "Lights on. Fine," his Khmer accent slurring the words together. 'Lights on' came out more like 'lice-ons,' very close to 'license.' Now I admit, I understood what he said, but it was a perfect opportunity for a convenient misunderstanding. I said "Oh, I have a license, see..." and showed him a copy of my driver license. He repeated himself, "Lights-on! Fine!" pointing at my headlight (which of course was now off.) Acting as if he is pointing at the bike I said, "Oh, you mean tax license," and lifted the seat to show the bike's tax tag stuck underneath. "See, I have tax license." Scowling a bit now, he responded "No. Lights on!" I looked puzzled and said, "But I have a license. I showed you already, see tax license, driver's license." Stressing 'lights-on' but pronouncing it just as poorly he said yet again, "No! LIGHTS-ON!!!" slapping at my headlight. I retorted calmly, "No, not there, my license here, under the seat," pointing at my tax stamp. He let out a heavy, frustrated sigh and dismissed me with a brush of his hand and a curt, "OK, you go, go now," which I did straight away.

Beat the ticket, so to speak. Cost me nothing but a couple of minutes of talking in circles. An old ploy but still effective. Sometimes it pays to be clueless.

And it's a dumb law anyway.

Casey Nelson a.k.a. LTO Cambodia


very funny and a good idea in

very funny and a good idea in case i ever get pulled off!!!


Sure, new to Cambodia, only a

Sure, new to Cambodia, only a few months now, and I think about the various insanities around me regularly.

I try to obey the "road rules" but weekly, I get cut off, fishtailed, and sometimes hit, by people of all ranges and sizes of vehicles, who blindly run red lights, and ignore what would seem to be humanly-instinctive road rules (such as smaller vehicles sticking to the left, and not SMS-texting with driving, or not driving one hand with an umbrella whilst doing 50kms in the wet), however, it's an organic free-for-all, as we know.

It says a lot about a place, similar to a North African country where I worked, where driving with headlights on during the day is criminalised, and the major law-enforcement fixation of the country's police, who loiter behind trees in gangs and then club young motorbike kids over the head, sometimes sending them and their motorbikes sprawling into other vehicles, causing secondary accidents (seen this a couple of times).

Better Call Saul


ha, ha. Brilliant!

ha, ha. Brilliant!


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