The more things change...

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Motorists drive down a busy street in downtown Hanoi

As I gaze out the window looking down on the traffic on the main street in Phu My Hung, I have a very difficult time trying to understand the driving behavior of motorbike drivers, taxi drivers, truck drivers, car drivers and feel empathy for the pedestrians attempting to cross the street without being injured or killed by all those speeding and running the red traffic lights at will.

More confounding is the complete absence of any police while living in Phu My Hung for the past three months, I have seen the traffic police one time, however, they were just passing through. This is just one of the many thousands of intersections in the city where rules are ignored frequently and the deterring factor - enforcement - is absent.

The year 2012 was to be the year of Traffic Safety in Vietnam and early in the year many local officials were boasting that the number of accidents and traffic jams had reduced by 10 percent to 50 percent, depending on the government source. In the December 26 issue of Viet Nam News, we read that the death toll in Hanoi was up by over 17 percent and injuries rose well over 10 percent despite the extraordinary efforts promised by the police for the year. 

We can well imagine the same is true for most other areas in Vietnam. So, how did all this extra effort work out? It's quite obvious that either not much was done or whatever was done was not very effective. According to news reports several months ago, top officials said they would severely punish those responsible for traffic safety if no improvements were made. Who will be punished? "¦ Difficult to say. In Vietnam it is extremely difficult to find anyone responsible or accountable.

In the same article, another "crackdown" is scheduled between now and the Tet holiday to "ensure public order and traffic safety" by "clamping down on drivers that break traffic laws." Sound familiar? Well, the increased fines for violations are to deter drivers from breaking the law, according to Senior Lieutenant Colonel Dao Vinh Thang. He says the increased fines have had the "desired effect"; he further states that these fines have "forced drivers to take note," but in the next sentence says: "The number of violations has increased." 

Does anyone make sense of the contradictions? Speaking of contradictions, in a Vietnam News article dated December 28, 2012, the vice chairman of the Vietnam Red Cross, Nguyen Huu Hong said: "There were, on average, 36 traffic accidents nation-wide each day, killing 30 people and injuring 28" (that equals 10,950 fatalities). While, in the same article, the Ministry of Transport reports that accidents thus far in 2012, "had killed 5,370 people and injured 4,500 others". We know from the Accident Safety Pyramid (which is used to estimate the number accidents, injuries, and risky driving behaviors for one fatality) that 10,950 fatalities would equal 3,285,000,000 at-risk driving behaviors (there are 300,000 at risk driving behaviors and 300 serious injuries for each recorded fatality). So do we have a problem with driving behavior or not?

It has been reported that in Hanoi, there were 777 accidents with 619 deaths and 397 injuries in 2012. If any traffic safety professional saw these numbers he/she would be flabbergasted. Based on the Accident Safety Pyramid, for 619 deaths there would be 185,700,000 at-risk driving behaviors and instead of the reported 397 injuries there would be 185,700 estimated serious injuries (obviously many injuries are not reported). So, for example, a ten percent reduction in traffic fatalities (from 619 to 557 deaths) in Hanoi would only be accomplished by reducing the number of at-risk driving behaviors by 18,600,000. What kind of effort would be required to change behavior to this extent?

How many "crackdowns" have been scheduled in the past years and what has been the result of each? If we have another crackdown with the same results things could get really ugly.

When will anything change "¦? 

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