Deadly roads

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Careless driving, disregard for the law and weak implementation combine to kill increasing numbers of people in road traffic accidents

The wrecked vehicles in an accident involving a bus and a freezer truck on April 18 in the north-central province of Ha Tinh that killed three and injured twenty others

Five-year-old Ly thinks her mother is at work.

"Why has mom been at work for so many days? She used to come home late, but not every day," she asked, pushing her grandmother for answers in their house at a village in Hanoi's Thanh Tri District.

However, her elder brother, 10-year-old Thanh, has no such questions. He occasionally takes out a photograph to look at his mother, 42-year-old Nguyen My Hanh.

Ly and Thanh lost their mother in the early hours of April 9 when the sanitation department worker was on her way back after a night shift of gathering garbage from the city streets. A speeding car hit Hanh and threw her over the hood, stopping a hundred meters away after running into an electric pole. Hanh died on the spot.

The driver, Nguyen Thanh Lam, who was detained at the scene, confessed he was running away from an earlier minor accident when he hit a parked motorbike and the riders chased him. Police said Lam was drunk.

The tragic accident orphaned Ly and Thanh. Their father had died four months ago in a construction site accident. A scaffolding collapsed over him when he was helping a relative build a new house.

Le Thuy Trang, Hanh's colleague, told the Tuoi Tre newspaper that Hanh had been working overtime at night recently because she had to bring up two children on her own after her husband's death.

Sadly, such stories are not uncommon in Vietnam, where traffic accidents kill people in tens of thousands every year. Even worse, all efforts to reduce accidents do not seem to have had any effect.

In 2010, 11,449 people died and 10,663 others were injured in 14,442 traffic accidents. Another 2,568 died and 2,750 were injured in the first quarter this year, Health Ministry figures show.

In an accident on April 18, three people, including a 22-year-old pregnant woman, were killed and twenty others injured when a bus crashed into a freezer truck on National Highway 1 in the north-central province of Ha Tinh at around 1:30 a.m.


* April 18: A bus crashed into a truck driving in the opposite direction on National Highway 1 in Ha Tinh Province, killing three people and injuring 20.

* April 16: A bus hit a truck on National Highway 19 in Gia Lai Province. The bus driver died on the spot while seven others were injured.

* April 15: A truck hit a motorbike from behind in the northern Bac Giang Province's Viet Yen District. Two motorbike riders died on the spot.

* April 14: A truck with failed brakes hit a motorbike and killed the rider. The vehicle only stopped after crashing into a roadside café and a bus. A woman in the café was seriously injured in the accident.

* March 28: A truck lost control and crashed into a roadside market on the National Highway 1 in Hau Giang Province, killing six and seriously injuring two others.

* March 12: A truck hit three people crossing a street in Ha Nam Province's Duy Tien District, killing two and seriously injuring the other.

The truck driver and his assistant were among five people seriously injured. The bus driver suffered minor injuries and was arrested. A lucky passenger said the vehicle was speeding and hit the truck head on.

"Traffic accidents have become a very serious problem. The number of accidents had reduced gradually over the past four years but have increased again in the first quarter this year," Transport Minister Ho Nghia Dung told the media at the International Conference on Vietnam Road Safety Strategy until 2020, held in Hanoi on April 15.

According to a draft plan introduced at the conference, Vietnam aims to reduce the rate of fatalities in traffic accidents to eight per 100,000 people by 2020 from the current 13 and to between four and six by 2030.

However, Tran Thi Ngoc Lan, deputy director of the Health Environment Management Agency under the Health Ministry, said the target should be reconsidered because fatality rates have reduced by just 0.5 per cent during the 2005-2010 period.

"Many people ignore traffic laws despite being aware of them," she said.

Colonel Nguyen Khac Hoa of the Road and Railway Traffic Police Department under the Ministry of Public Security also said that Vietnam has failed to reduce fatalities in traffic accidents by five percent over the past five years, as was previously planned.

The general consensus among experts about the recent increase in fatal road accidents can be attributed to careless driving and disregard for traffic laws.

According to Vietnam Road Transport Department, up to 70 percent of road accidents are caused by drivers' disregard of traffic laws, including speeding and drunk drinking.

"I believe [many] accidents were due to driving while drowsy, which can be as dangerous as drunk driving. Drivers have a responsibility not only to their passengers but also to other vehicles on the road to practice safe driving," said Megan Bailey, communications and outreach coordinator at the Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation.

Jonathon Passmore, technical officer for Road Safety & Injury Prevention at World Health Organization (WHO) Vietnam, said the potential for exposure to road traffic injury is increasing exponentially as more than 500 new cars and 8,000 new motorcycles hit the road every day.

"It highlights the importance of implementing specific actions and interventions to protect road users from the major risk factors that may affect road travel such as drinking and driving, not wearing seatbelts, excessive speed and either not wearing or only wearing poor quality motorcycle helmets," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Implementation of traffic laws is also weak, experts said.

Takagi Michimasa, a traffic safety expert at Japan International Cooperation Agency, urged tough action against careless drivers and better implementation of relevant regulations to reduce traffic accidents.

Bailey agreed. It is the job of the government to enforce traffic laws and ensure a safe environment for its citizens, she said.

"A combination of increased public awareness and education, supported by increased enforcement of traffic laws is critical to creating a safe traffic environment," she said, adding that AIP Foundation will launch a three-year public awareness campaign in partnership with the Vietnamese government and other sectors this year to promote the use of child helmets.

"Similar campaigns are necessary for other major road safety issues, such as drowsy driving and drunk driving," she said.

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