Foreign tourists flout traffic laws

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Police in the beach towns of Phan Thiet and Vung Tau have decried a rising trend of serious accidents caused by drunk and unlicensed foreign drivers, most of whom are tourists.

The authorities have attributed the trend to a lack of traffic enforcement officers who can effectively communicate with foreigners.

On April 17, Nick Newman, an Australian tourist tied a two-meter kite to an old 1967 Honda motorbike and headed towards Mui Ne Beach in Phan Thiet, according to local traffic police.

On his way, Newman's kite clipped Bui Sanh, an employee at a local tourist company, who was traveling in the opposite direction. The pair hit the ground, sustaining minor injuries.

At the police station, Sanh demanded VND1 million (US$49) in compensation from Newman in order to make repairs to his damaged bike.

Second Lieutenant Nguyen Luu Trung found Newman at fault. The tourist should not have been carrying such an unwieldy load, he said.

Trung also claimed that Newman did not have a driver's license or registration and was visibly drunk.

Trung failed to issue a fine against the tourist, who insisted he was not at fault and didn't have any money to pay Sanh.

Trouble in paradise

"Many foreigners driving motorbikes in Mui Ne have been pulled over without a bike registration or driving license," Trung said. "Meanwhile, many traffic police just let them go because they can't communicate with them."

Trung is just among few traffic police in Phan Thiet who can speak English.

On April 18, a Thanh Nien reporter accompanied him on a patrol.

The officer pulled over ten foreign drivers, of which nine were found in violation of traffic laws. Six had no licenses and registrations. Two others were not wearing helmets and one was using an invalid driver's license.

Lieutenant Colonel Dinh Cong Minh of Phan Thiet police said that there have been six serious traffic accidents involving foreigners in the south-central beach town, since Tet (early February).

"Most of the accidents occurred at night and were caused by drunk foreigners," he said.

On April 2, police say that Suya Kant, a Russian tourist collided with a taxi at around 5 a.m.

Kant, who had been drinking, suffered only minor injuries but a Vietnamese passenger that he was carrying sustained brain damage.

On April 16, Lukes Erilason, a 19-year-old French tourist, was carrying a Russian female when the duo collided with another foreigner in Mui Ne.

All of them suffered serious head injuries.

Beach bums

Officials in the south-eastern beach town of Vung Tau say they are grappling with a similar dilemma.

Lieutenant Colonel Trinh Van Phuong of the Vung Tau police said that many of his officers can't speak English and only use gestures and numbers to communicate a fine.

Some foreigners understand and are compliant during such exchanges, he said, others feign ignorance, or genuinely fail to understand.

In a recent case, Vung Tau police said they were determined to issue fine against a foreign driver whom, they believed, was speaking gibberish in an effort to dissuade them.

After issuing the fine, police say the driver launched into a fluent blue streak of Vietnamese.

On April 19, police pulled over Darryl Micheal Fletchet, an Australian tourist, whom they say was both drunk and without a helmet.

They were able to issue appropriate fines and sent him on his way.

Authorities in both beach towns blame motorbike rental services that lease vehicles to foreigners without asking for their license or issuing them registration cards.

In nearby Ho Chi Minh City, police have launched a unit-wide language education problem to help combat the problem.

Tran Thanh Tra, the city's deputy chief of traffic police, said they have trained hundreds of patrolmen to speak fluent English.

According to Nguyen Ngoc Loan, a traffic officer in Ben Thanh Ward, traffic violations by foreigners have significantly decreased in recent years as a result of their language training.

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