We are worried too: a truck driver speaks

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 A truck crashed into a house in the Central Highlands resort town of Da Lat, seriously injuring a woman who was watching TV inside the house, on June 25

In response to recent spate of serious traffic accidents, the Prime Minister has issued an order calling for urgent preventive actions.

The PM wants strict control over all the components related to traffic, like drivers' training, the granting of driving licenses, vehicle quality, and operations of transport companies.

Honestly, truck drivers who are always worried about and even afraid of traffic accidents, like my friends and I, felt very glad about the PM's move. We consider it as a strong medicine prescribed for Vietnam's long lasting and serious disease.

But, at the same time, we are also concerned about its effectiveness, because we are all aware that the disease cannot be treated by merely relying on the capacity of people involved in the treatment process. It is, more importantly, a matter of their conscience.

Spending most of our time behind a wheel, we clearly understand why traffic accidents keep happening despite the government's efforts.

First, it is related to the drivers' skills. Many drivers I know received training from schools where profits are the top priority, meaning they are willing to reduce training time (cutting practice time and removing lessons on ethics for drivers) to save costs. All people care is whether their students pay enough fees or not.

Second, the safety of vehicles. Whenever they buy a truck, be it old or new, what the buyers care about is whether they can increase its capacity two or three times its originally designed capacity. The only way to do so is to add more shock absorbers of the vehicle, strengthen its floor, and even enlarge its tires. All these modifications are easy to spot just by looking at the vehicle, even to someone with no expert knowledge. But, all the staff with quality checking agencies still fail to detect them.

Then, there are bribes that truck drivers pay traffic police to get out of trouble in case they are caught flouting rules, especially when they transport more than allowed. This kind of corruption has been exposed by local media many times, but we drivers know what is known is just the tip of an iceberg.

A friend of mine who drives a truck from the northern province of Thai Binh to Ho Chi Minh City says his vehicle was designed to carry eight tons, but usually he carries 18 tons.

When I asked him if he was afraid of being caught and fined, he said: "Every trip, if I am lucky enough, I have to pay VND3 million, or VND5 million, to the blue-uniformed (traffic inspectors), the yellow-uniformed (traffic police) and staff at stations checking truck weight."

Of course, it's a one-sided claim from a driver, so it might not be trustworthy enough for some. But, I believe that if any of us who've had a chance to talk to drivers we hear a lot of similar stories.

The government has to investigate such claims of corruption.

It is the same for other problems related to Vietnam's traffic. Without knowing what kind of disease it has suffered, the government cannot treat it effectively.

Thanh Nien News. Original Vietnamese story is written by Tran Kiem Ha and published in Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper. Ha has worked as a truck driver for more than 30 years. He published an autobiographical book called "Cuoc doi sau tay lai" (Life behind a wheel) last year.

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