Driving is serious business

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The development of a safe transport culture in Vietnam has failed to keep up with the breakneck speed of motorization in the county, President of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIPF) Greig Craft told Thanh Nien Weekly in an interview.

Thanh Nien Weekly: How do you assess the transport situation, and the traffic accident situation, in Vietnam, especially in major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City?

Greig Craft: Traffic in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City means more than just clogged streets. Meanwhile, [the] traffic accident [rate] in Vietnam is appalling, and remains among the highest in the world. This is a new war taking place in the country, a road war, in which innocent civilians are being wounded and killed every day and every night.

The personal loss and pain is incalculable, but the economic costs are not. Vietnam loses nearly US$1 billion annually from road accidents.

Speed does not kill, but overcrowded buses, frantically trying to meet deadlines, and unskilled and tired taxi drivers who sometimes work 12 hours or more all compound the problem

 

Are there any countries that have similar transport conditions as ours?

Many rapidly developing nations around the world share similar traffic situations. With over a billion people, India has one of the most troubling transport environments in the world and, as in Vietnam, motorbikes and motorcycles are an important part of the transport culture.

The shortcomings can be clearly seen, but solving them is not easy, and cannot be done overnight. So, what should the cities do to improve their transport systems, and reduce traffic accidents?

We urgently need multidimensional solutions to deal with this situation. Lack of knowledge and enforcement, too few police on the streets, even violent and aggressive attitudes are rampant and all of these elements combined are causing devastating accidents. The driving habits and skills of the nation's bus and taxi drivers are very weak, making public transportation often more of a liability than an asset

Much of this can be improved by better training, public awareness and even education in the school system. But much more needs to be done regarding improved streets and roads, improved traffic management, more police on the streets. There is a need to organize and implement proper driver's education and adequate education and equipment for traffic police must be added.

These basics need to be backed up by more effective police work, and more police on the streets.

There must be a visible police presence 24 hours per day, and they must be better empowered to strictly enforce the laws and to break the cycle of lawlessness that is prevalent. Serious and drastic penalties must be imposed on those who do not follow the rules.

What should be the top priority?

Good public transportation is critically needed. This will not be cheap, but the government should do all that it can to expedite the planning and financing of underground, and above-ground, rail systems, along with improved and expanded bus systems.

I also recommend green days where entire parts of the city can be closed to traffic.

This has proven successful in many countries throughout the world. It helps sustain special parts of the city and culture in a different way, and significantly improves the quality of life.

To reduce traffic jams, some intersections in Hanoi have been cut off so that people must drive further to turn left. How do you assess the effectiveness of the measure?

Improving traffic flow is always an effective intervention. It is difficult however to assess the effectiveness of this measure without data to support the regulation. Standardized data collection and evaluation systems will improve monitoring and decision-making, but the fact that the authorities are taking such actions is positive and proactive.

The government has also applied some other measures such as reorganizing transport routes, and increasing transport fees for individual vehicles. Have the government's measures caught up with transport development?

Less than a generation ago, most of Vietnam was a bicycle culture, but the economy and people have experienced rapid modernization and motorization for which they have not had time to be properly trained, nor have they had the necessary experience to fully comprehend that driving is serious business. Driving a motorbike, motorcycle or even a car is not the same as driving a bicycle. And even minor crashes are extremely violent events.

Can you share some experiences your country has had in dealing with such problems?

Through our experience in Vietnam, we have seen that when government and non-government partners cooperate, they are able to achieve great things in terms of dealing with social issues such as road safety. Collaboration between different sectors has proven crucial to our success. This has likewise been the key to improving road safety in my country, the United States, where citizen groups, cities, states and the government bodies all work together to find best solutions. This has been extremely effective in campaigns for speeding, drinking and driving, seatbelts and helmets.

What has the AIPF done to help Vietnam improve its transport situation, and reduce traffic accidents?

Since opened in Vietnam in 1999, the AIPF has worked with government partners to lobby for legislative action on improving helmet standards in 2000 and helmet wearing, and the mandatory helmet law enacted in December 2007. We have also implemented numerous school and community education programs throughout the nation's 63 provinces and cities with the support of corporate sponsors, the National Traffic Safety Committee, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Education and Training and other local partners.

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