A crowded downtown street in Hanoi
I notice that a lot of the commentary on traffic accidents in Vietnam these days tends to blame the government for the state of the roads and other infrastructural bottlenecks.
I love Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. However there is something I do hate big time their driving manners, actually the lack thereof, including the habit of cutting corners to save a few seconds.
While the government deserves some criticism, what is really blameworthy is the mix of ignorance and a lack of civic sense and driving etiquette.
I have worked many years for the Ministry of Transport and the Health & Safety Executive Department in the UK, and in both jobs I was part of a committee charged with reducing road accidents, and we did a pretty good job.
Let's be honest. Roads and their layout are not good in Vietnam, and we could blame the government for that. However, I drive everyday in HCMC, and there is not a single day I am not close to a crash at least once, and each time it is dangerous driving that has creates the danger.
First, mirrors on motorbikes are there for a reason: apart from checking if your makeup is right, they are there to check before you turn or engage in any other maneuver. Here, however, the practice is to switch lanes or turn without checking anything, and it is up to whoever is driving behind to adapt. We cannot blame the government for such dangerous behavior, and for not willing to wait 20 seconds for the lights to change instead of "saving time" by driving on the pavement.
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I drive everyday on a very wide and clear road, but many drivers come close to crashing, because rather than follow the road's curve and spend 10 seconds more to turn in the right place, they have to drive across through the middle of the traffic (saves no time by the way).
We cannot blame the government for this behavior, and I could continue with a long list of unacceptable driving practices that we all see and experience every day. Actually, we can blame the government. Because when all this driving misbehavior takes place right under the noses of traffic police, they do absolutely nothing.
It bears repeating that one of the ways traffic accidents have been reduced in the west is by imposing heavy fines and even prison sentences, but here drivers get away with murder (never better said) for free, or next to nothing. I am not even going to comment on drunk driving.
If the government starts educating drivers and imposing hefty sentences, I am sure the number of accidents and deaths will reduce considerably. Until this happens, I know that it is not a matter of if, but when and how serious my motorbike accident is going to be.
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By Alfredo De La Casa
The writer is a British expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City