Traffic problems more tragic than we think

TN News

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A five-episode Thanh Nien tragicomedy on Ho Chi Minh City “traffic culture” has drawn a massive response from readers nationwide.

- “The problem that leads to the traffic chaos, besides poor infrastructure, is people’s inability to behave on the street and their unwillingness to obey the laws. Everyone knows that but hardly anyone bothers to change.”

- “Drivers that obey the laws are left to hope that the traffic police will help, only to feel betrayed when not all the officers do a good job and some even violate traffic laws themselves.”

- “Parents set bad examples for their children when they park illegally while waiting to pick up their kids at schools or when they fight over the right-of-way or drive on the wrong side of the road...”

Traffic culture

Our road conduct these days goes not only against our laws, but against our culture. The poor conduct is inescapable in every direction.

Passengers are often forced to drive through huge puddles of dishwashing water pouring out of roadside homes. Others unhappily receive saliva spat from the window of a passing luxury car.

Many families have destroyed the sidewalks near their homes to make a driveway while restaurants often collude together to take up part of the street for their parking lots.

Foreigners used to marvel at the lack of road rage in Vietnam. Though things have always been crowded on our city streets, travelers from the US, Australia, India and elsewhere have always been humbled by our ability to take the madness gracefully and in stride.

But we’re even losing that as more and more motorists take to shouting profanities and even resorting to violence against one another on our roads, in front of our children, for silly traffic mishaps.

Official culture

We’ve been rightfully questioning the willingness of residents to obey the laws. But have we ever questioned the willingness of the state officials, many of whom consider traffic order none of their business?

Just stand at a crossroads at peak hours, or sit outside a state office for a while, and observe. You will see our state-owned vehicles swagger about as if the law didn’t apply to them.

Here’s a normal scene:

A small car runs a red light in front of a traffic police officer. The officer pursues the vehicle but turns around just before he’s about to whistle. He’s realized that the license plate is blue, which distinguishes state vehicles from ordinary vehicles that use white plates.

Police officers say there’s no use pulling over state cars. “Tickets given to state vehicles get canceled anyway when the driver calls his boss and his boss will call mine, and my boss will call me,” said one officer on condition of anonymity.

Many drivers of blue-plate vehicles are often given signals by traffic police that they have priority on the street, leaving the white-plate drivers to swallow their annoyance.

Not only traffic initiatives but any civil campaign should aim at officials first to make them set good examples for residents.

For example, the “Buy Vietnam” campaign initiated by the Politburo in August will fail if officials just want to wear foreign-branded suits, shoes, eyeglasses and sign papers with foreign pens.

Likewise, a traffic campaign can never succeed if the officials just drive the way they like and then call someone to cancel tickets.

We’ve developed into a country that can afford more and more roads, more and more cars and more and more motorbikes. We’re getting what we paid for in terms of material development, but are we really getting our dollars’ worth in the ways that matter?

By Nguyen The Thinh-Truong Dien Thang

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