I found the roads to be good examples for what is referred to in development slang as ‘low state capacity’. The Cambodian government is unable to enforce the laws it keeps passing and this is most obvious on the roads of this country. The general rule is that the bigger the car is the more rights the driver can exercise. Taken together with corruption this leads to extreme results. About halve of the cars have the steering wheel on the right hand, the other half on the left. This in turn causes substantial confusion about on which side of the road to drive. The law of the land is that the driving wheel belongs to the left of the car. A colleague told me a few days ago that one party tries to catch votes by seriously promising to enforce this rule.
Somebody whose brother’s car has the steering wheel on the right told me that those cars are illegally imported. Interestingly, I observed that on the compound of the Ministry of Interior a strong majority of the driver has the steering wheel on the right. This is just observation and I did not take any statistical measures yet.
Closely related to this question is on which side of the road to drive. The law says on the right hand and there is a tendency to do so but not significantly so. Nobody has insurance and for this reason people in Phnom Penh tend to drive very carefully. Moreover, it is most of the time about three persons on one moto and often four or five, with some of them being children.
To cross a road is very difficult and for passengers without vehicle often impossible. On the Norodom Blvd. close to all those ministries is a major traffic light and there is usually a number of traffic policy staff close by. This traffic light does not only display the three color signal but in addition a huge digital counter. This counts down from 60 to zero and can be seen from fare away. When the countdown passes 10 the drivers of those vehicles with two wheels try everything to get into the best starting position. Frequently they start driving when the 5 is passed, causing major interruption in the traffic that is still clearing the junction. Driving to work I have to pass this junction, which is just going straight ahead on the main road (Monivong Blvd.) It happens frequently to me that the driver of the moto does confidently not reduce the speed, turns right for just a few meters and immediately turns again and tries to get into a good position to be the first back on Norodom Blvd. Various drivers have various strategies to avoid particular bottlenecks.
Outside Phnom Penh the road is about as lawless as it can get.