Even to the experienced, driving in Cambodia can be a harrowing ordeal. Crazy teenagers on motos, horsecarts blocking the road, wandering cows, and bullying Lexus drivers… Drive here long enough, and sooner or later you’re going to have an accident.

Imagine it’s nighttime on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. You negligently clipped a moto-driver, though he was driving like a maniac and probably drunk. He fell and has minor injuries, but the bike is ruined. A crowd has gathered, there’s shouting, everyone’s blaming you. The cops arrive and decide you’re at fault, demanding an exorbitant sum, and won’t let you go. You’re carrying a few bucks, there’s no bank anywhere, and the cop took your keys anyway.

What to do?

To a foreigner used to insurance companies, courtrooms, and due-process, this can seem a bit shocking. Don’t freak out. From a legal perspective, while it may be possible to bring a traffic-accident suit to court, the Traffic Law specifically empowers the police to settle the dispute, on the scene. What’s more, they can legally prevent you from leaving without settling. Don’t think you can just tell them to call your lawyer and drive off. Bad move.

Unless you’re drinking buddies with the chief of police, the best practical advice is to carry liability insurance. Call your insurer’s 24-hour number, hand the phone to the cop (or better yet, dial it on his phone), and they’ll negotiate it all for you. The insurer will reach an agreement, pay the bill, and you can be on your way.

And best of all, you don’t have to talk to a lawyer.

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