Black box rule could face enforcement snags

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Compliance using substandard devices and lax surveillance of manufacturers can render new decree ineffective

A container truck crashed into a bus on May 11 on National Highway 1A in Binh Thuan Province, killing seven and injuring four others. The Ministry of Transport expects a new black box requirement to reduce the number of accidents on the nation's roads.

A black box requirement for passenger vehicles and container trucks cannot be enforced thoroughly when it becomes mandatory on July 1, experts say.

Phung Dang Hai, general director of the Ho Chi Minh City Transport Cooperatives Union, said more than 700 public buses under his agency's management are already equipped with the device.

"However, many container trucks and passenger vehicles for hire belonging to small cooperatives have installed substandard devices, if any," he told Vietweek.

The decree originally required all container trucks, buses and passenger vehicles for hire to carry a black box by July 2012.

It said the device should, at least, record the route, speed, parking, opening and closing of doors as well as the driving time. The vehicle owners should be able to manage the vehicle from their offices and the device should be able to issue warnings against violations like speeding to the driver, the decree said.

Following complaints from vehicle owners and transport cooperatives, the central government decided not to punish those who violated the decree until July this year.

With the deadline drawing near, officials from concerned agencies are hopeful that the decree would achieve the aim of reducing the number of traffic accidents across the country.

According to the National Traffic Safety Committee, more than 2,400 traffic accidents took place nationwide in May, killing 799 people and injuring 2,480.

So far this year, there have been 12,052 traffic accidents that have killed 4,163 people and injured 12,171 others, meaning an average of 27 people die in accidents every day.

At a government meeting on May 26, Minister of the Government Office Vu Duc Dam said: "The number of people killed and injured is like in a war."

He noted that when the hand-foot-mouth disease broke out, only a few dozen people died.

"I am not playing down the pandemic but just want to show that traffic accidents are a very serious problem."

Nguyen Hoang Hiep, deputy director of the National Traffic Safety Committee, said up to 90 percent of vehicles involved in tragic accidents are those that the decree requires to have the black box installed.

"I believe that traffic accidents will reduce if we implement the black box requirement thoroughly."

Hiep said there was no regulation allowing traffic police to issue fines based on information taken from the black box, but transport inspectors will be able to use the information to take measures against owners of the vehicles.

At a conference on May 27 held by the Ministry of Transport to announce results of inspections of black box makers and compliance by transport businesses, chief inspector Nguyen Van Huyen said 48,000 vehicles have installed the device.

"Starting from July, we will revoke the business registration of companies that have 30 percent of their vehicles violating the Traffic Law based on the black box's information," he said.

An inspection of ten black box makers found only two satisfying requirements.

"The companies supplying black boxes committed violations in declaring the product origin or using substandard speedometers," he said, adding that inspectors revoked licenses of three companies and ordered two others to repair products that they'd already sold.

However, Hiep also said it would take more time before the enforcement of the black box regulations will have significant impacts.

He said transport agencies are discussing creating a digital map that would be able to pinpoint each vehicle's exact street, and provide the particular road's speed limit, via the black box, in order to better detect speeding and enforce the law.

Evasive actions

Meanwhile, experts are concerned that many drivers will find ways to avoid being fined rather than strictly comply with the black box requirement.

Nguyen Van Thanh, chairman of the Vietnam Automobile Transportation Association, said the Ministry of Transport should strictly manage the 52 licensed device manufacturers and suppliers.

"I know that a licensed manufacturer sold substandard black boxes. It should be clarified if this company had paid bribes to obtain this license," Thanh was quoted by the Sai Gon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper as saying.

He said some manufacturers had supplied the device through registration agencies that might approve poor quality devices.

Le Hai Phong, director of the HCMC Public Transport Management Center, said it is difficult for passenger transport cooperatives to get good quality devices because they do not know which manufacturers are trustworthy with several found selling substandard products.

"Moreover, the employees are still struggling with the systems that receive information from black boxes," he told Vietweek.

Commenting on the black box requirement, Van, deputy director of a transport company in HCMC's District 8, said a drivers have "hundreds of ways" to get through without installing a standard device.

"What if the drivers bribe traffic police after they are pulled over to check the black box for evidence of previous speeding offences?"

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