Accounting for manslaughter

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A Thanh Nien investigation revealed that Vietnam's trucking industry is willing to kill to meet competitive deadlines


A truck which struck two motorcycles on National Highway 1 in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Tan District on December 12, 2010. Police and industry insiders claim that truck drivers are showing increasingly less regard for human life in order to meet competitive deadlines.

Four people were crushed to death when a container truck overturned on Road 741 stretching Binh Duong and Binh Phuoc provinces last Wednesday (February 9).

Police claim that the driver, 39- year-old Nguyen Thanh Trung of Ho Chi Minh City, lost control of his vehicle, while speeding.

The fully loaded, 40-foot container truck overturned near the Phuoc Hoa Bridge in HCMC's neighboring Binh Duong Province at around 2 p.m., crushing and dragging Do Viet Dung and Nguyen Thi Thuy Hong to death.

Trung initially fled the scene. Soon after the incident, he walked into the Phu Gia District police station in Binh Duong Province to turn himself in.

It took rescue workers more than four hours to pull back the wreckage.

When they did, they discovered the remains of the motorbike and two more bodies: Dang Thi Thanh and her 14-year-old son, Bui Van Anh.

The fatal wreck was just one of several such accidents recently caused by careless truck drivers around the country.

A Thanh Nien investigation revealed the emergence of a culture of recklessness, in which trucking firm owners place the value of human life as second to meeting impossible deadlines.

Thai Van Chung, general secretary of the HCMC Goods Transportation Society (a trucking trade association) blamed the recent accidents on depraved ethics among drivers and trucking firm owners.

"I think these drivers are placing human life below business profits," he told Thanh Nien Weekly. "They have no regard for traffic laws anymore."

Chung believes that traffic fines should be raised and ethics should be taught to drivers during certification courses.

HCMC hot spots

Last year, trucks accounted for a majority of four-wheeled vehicle accidents. One hundred and eighty one accidents were recorded. One hundred and sixty one people were killed and another 52 injured, according to the HCMC Traffic Police Division.

One traffic patrolman in Thu Duc District, which is bisected by both National Highway 1 and the Hanoi Highway, said that most of the traffic accidents on his beat are connected to trucks.

"Most of these traffic accidents were caused by young drivers," he said. "They have often caused accidents partly because of heavy workload and partly because they lack experience."

Last year, the An Suong Traffic Police Station issued a report claiming an increase of container truck accidents. A subsequent investigation found that many of the drivers had fallen asleep at the wheel.

HCMC traffic police identified several prime streets as being the sites of regular traffic accidents, including National Highway 1, Kinh Duong Vuong, Nguyen Tat Thanh, Tran Xuan Soan, Le Van Khuong, Kha Van Can, Phan Huy Ich, Nguyen Thi Dinh, National Highway 22 and National Highway 52.

In 2009, there were 156 traffic accidents on these streets with 62 people killed and 213 injured. The top two causes of the accidents, police say, are vehicles traveling against traffic, followed by excessive speeds.

Since 2003, cities and towns have begun to implement curfews for trucks. In mid-2010, HCMC increased its trucking curfews effectively barring large vehicles from entering the city's central districts from 6-8 a.m. and 4-8 p.m., every day.

During the course of the investigation, reporters observed trucks driving up the wrong lanes, speeding and rushing through streets choked with rush hour motorbike commuters.

Need for speed

Thanh Nien reporters observed trucks racing through the main thoroughfares in HCMC, including Dien Bien Phu, Nguyen Huu Canh, Nguyen Kiem, Le Duc Tho, Kinh Duong Vuong, and Truong Chinh streets.

The situation is even worse on Vietnam's highways.

Many residents wrote Thanh Nien complaining about speeding trucks on National Highway 1 in Binh Tan and Thu Duc districts.

"Speeding trucks are on the road around the clock and frequently cause accidents," said a gas station employee in Thu Duc District. "Recently, a speeding truck hit and killed a man on a motorbike at a nearby intersection."

On January 7, two speeding trucks traveling down National Highway 1 in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue collided after one attempted to pass the other. One vehicle hit a motorbike traveling in the opposite direction, killing a 37-year-old woman and her 10-year-old daughter. The driver (father and husband) survived his severe injuries.

On Sunday, a speeding truck on National Highway 1 in Dong Nai Province collided with a bus and several motorbikes, killing a 54- year-old woman and seriously injuring three others.

Insuring murder

Many truck drivers involved in the accidents admitted to speeding regularly because they were paid per trip and were often pressured to move the goods as fast as possible.

"No driver wants to cause an accident but we have to rush to make as many runs as possible to eke out a living," said Thuan, a retired truck driver in District 7 who now works for a passenger transport service.

Truck owners are said to offer financial incentives to meet impossible deadlines.

"Traffic safety is not mentioned," said Van, an employee at a major goods transport company in District 7. "Many drivers were told to ignore others' lives while driving. The priority is getting goods to their destination, on time."

He also confirmed rumors that some trucking firm owners set aside money to compensate at least two victim families per year.

"Some truck owners also assured their drivers that traffic police would never fine them for speeding because they had "˜bought off' [policemen for not pulling them over] on their regular routes," he said.

Dang Anh Tuan, who owns a small private trucking firm in HCMC's Binh Thanh District, agreed that many transport company operators have asked their drivers to focus on timely delivery rather than human life.

Getting back to work after a fatal accident is not all that complicated, Tuan alleged.

"[Truck owners] only get a little money from insurance companies to repair their vehicles," he said. "They pay out of pocket to compensate victims and their families. They also offer "˜greasing' money to police to facilitate the handling of the case to get their trucks back to business."

RECENT TRUCK ACCIDENTS

- February 15: A truck struck a motorbike from behind on Binh Duong Province's Chu Van An Street, killing two women.

- February 13: A truck hit a bus on National Highway 1 in Dong Nai Province, 35 kilometers to the northeast of HCMC, crushing several motorbikes. A woman was killed on the spot while three others were seriously injured.

- February 9: A speeding truck overturned on Binh Duong Province's Road 741, killing four people.

- January 7: Two trucks' speeding on National Highway 1 in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue killed two people on motorbikes and injured another. Two drivers were seriously injured in the accident.

- December 13, 2010: A container truck struck a motorbike from behind on Ho Chi Minh City's Dien Bien Phu Street, seriously injuring two men.

- October 28, 2010: A truck struck a 34-year-old woman from behind on HCMC's National Highway 22. The body was removed from the vehicle's rear wheels, several hours after the accident.

- April 26, 2010: A truck struck a sixth grader riding a bicycle in Tay Ninh Province, 90km to the northwest of HCMC. Trucks were banned from the road.

- April 24, 2010: A truck hit and killed a man on a motorbike driving down National Highway 1 in HCMC's Thu Duc District. It only stopped after felling three electrical posts on the roadside and the fence of a nearby house.

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