Tolerance for traffic violators a source of national shame

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Several people travel on motobikes without helmets in Hanoi

An overseas Vietnamese told me he has lived and worked in Vietnam for ten years, but he has never driven a vehicle himself. He said within the first seven months of his business, he sacked four drivers because they drove the wrong way down one-way streets or sped through congested streets in a "scary" way.

But, now he has become accustomed to the chaos of Vietnamese traffic, where drivers often go in the wrong way and ignore red lights in the absence of traffic cops. Most of Vietnamese people have grown up accepting that to blatantly violate traffic rules is normal behavior.

However, a recent video clip, which shows a foreigner attempting to stop droves of vehicles from going the wrong way at a traffic intersection in Hanoi, has elicited outrage among locals over the pervasiveness with which their compatriots ignore traffic laws.

"Such a shame!" many netizens commented after watching the clip recorded and published by the Voice of Vietnam (VOV) news website last week.

The worst part was that some drivers simply ignored the man standing in the middle of the intersection, waving his arms and even trying to grab the back of motorbikes which had swerved around him.

The expat, whose country of origin is unknown, but who goes by Long, has been in Vietnam for five years, according to the news website.

He passes by the Tran Binh Trong Tran Nhan Tong intersection every day and sees many vehicles dangerously going the wrong way down a one-way street as a shortcut. He said that he and his son were also once run into by a motorbike going in the wrong way.

Officials and the public alike have turned a blind eye to the flouting of traffic regulations, although accidents and quarrels take place on a regular basis. After repeated efforts to get related agencies to do something about the situation, Long decided to take matters into his own hands.

It would seem that this lone foreigner was the only person who cared enough to address the problem, which frequently results in accidents.

If traffic is the face of a city, as many people have said, then we are truly shamefaced.

Not a day passes in Vietnam without reports about sleepy truck drivers crashing into houses, or speeding motorbikes ignoring red lights and running into other vehicles or pedestrians.

The existence of traffic lanes becomes a joke during rush hour, as drivers speed into any and all empty spaces that might provide a way out of the brutal congestion.

Pedestrians grant themselves the right to cross the road at any place as they wish. Motorcyclists and bicyclists believe that it does not make any difference if they go a few seconds before a red light turns green, or go into the wrong way down a one-way street for several meters.

It has been argued that it is not the pressure of traffic congestion or the shortcomings of road infrastructure, but people's attitudes, which is the leading cause of traffic accidents in Vietnam. Indeed, 80 percent of accidents are caused by drunk drivers, while 16 percent happen due to excessive speed and drivers improperly encroaching into lanes where they don't belong.

At a meeting last month reviewing the country's efforts to maintain traffic safety during the first six months of the year, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who also serves as the chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, said that even within the restraints the current infrastructure, Vietnam can vastly reduce the number of casualties, simply by improving peoples' awareness of the importance of heeding the rules of the road.

The degree to which individuals are aware of traffic regulations pertains to education, law enforcement, and infrastructure. If relevant agencies analyze the situation carefully, they will realize that improving people's awareness is not so difficult.

The situation will be impossible to remedy as long as given superficial education and lax enforcement are the norm, with violators able to easily get away with their reckless driving by bribing traffic cops or contacting friends in positions of authority.

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