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No headway can be made against drinking and driving if punitive measures are not meted out strictly and obviously


Vu The Bang, 65, of Binh Phuoc Province's Dong Phu District crashed into a parking truck in drunk condition and was killed on the spot in an accident last June. The government is discussing a draft resolution that will handle drunk drivers with stricter measures.

Stringent, visible enforcement of drunk driving laws is necessary to improving traffic safety in Vietnam, according to Jonathan Passmore, technical officer for Road Safety & Injury Prevention with World Health  Organization (WHO) Vietnam.

Passmore says drunk driving is a widespread practice that had to be discouraged effectively.

He called for intensive and hard-hitting social marketing campaigns to educate the public not only about the risks that drunk driving presents to drivers and other road users, but also of the consequences that will apply when a driver or rider is caught with a BAC (blood alcohol content) above the legal limit.

"With such efforts, drivers and riders will come to realize that if they drink they can't drive because they will eventually get caught by the police and severely penalized and that is just not a risk worth taking," he said.

Last week, the Transport Ministry announced it was collecting opinions for a draft resolution on "major solutions to ensure traffic safety," to reduce the number of accidents caused by drunk driving.

Transport Minister Ho Nghia Dung said there has been an increase in the number of traffic accidents and fatalities so far this year.

"The draft resolution will focus on handling violations of drunk driving because it is responsible for between 15-17 percent of traffic fatalities," he said in a statement posted  Monday on the government website.

According to the Health Ministry, 2,568 people died and 2,750 were injured in traffic accidents in the first quarter of this year.

Passmore revealed that a survey of more than 18,000 traffic crash victims  from six hospitals in Hanoi, HCMC, Da Nang, Hue, Yen Bai and Binh Duong provinces between 2009 and 2010 found that 36 percent of motorcycle riders and 66.8 percent of car and other vehicle drivers tested had BAC above the legal limit of 50mg/dl and 0mg/dl respectively.

SAFE LEVELS

The National Traffic Safety Committee has recommended a legal threshold of blood alcohol content (BAC) under 50mg/100ml or breath alcohol content (BrAC) of under 0.25mg/l for motorbikes.

- Beer: No more than one and one third of 330ml can in the first hour and no more than two thirds of a can per each following hour.

- Wine: No more than 100 milliliters in the first hour and no more than 50 milliliters per each following hour.

- Brandy: No more than 30 milliliters in the first hour and no more than 15 milliliters per each following hours.

Note: The above recommendation is for men only. Women need to halve the volume of alcohol consumption in the first hour.

"This is a very important risk factor for road traffic injury in Vietnam and requires urgent action," he said.

According to the National Traffic Safety Committee, 13,713 reported road traffic crashes nationwide led to 11,060 deaths and 10,306 injuries in 2010.

A 2010 Hanoi School of Public Health Study found that 80 percent of survey respondents reported that they drink and drive and 58 percent said they would travel as a passenger with a driver who had been drinking.

Another 2010 survey conducted by the Population and Social Issues Research Institute found that 62 percent of traffic accident patients at two of Hanoi's largest hospitals - Viet Duc and Saint Paul hospitals - had alcohol content in their blood.

Considering the danger that drunk drivers pose to themselves and other road users, Passmore called for a change in "what is considered publically acceptable - from the central place that alcohol currently has in social interaction to a community intolerance of drunk driving."

"Such a change will inevitably lead to a widespread change in road user behavior that will ultimately saves lives on Vietnam's roads," he said.

Greig Craft, President and CEO of Asian Injury Prevention Foundation an NGO working to reduce road traffic crash injuries and fatalities in developing countries, said the National Traffic Safety Committee has partnered with the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) to reduce drunk driving through a series of interventions including decreased marketing of alcoholic drinks and stricter enforcement of current drinking and driving laws.

However, he said, more efforts were needed to change the attitude of people toward drinking and driving.

According to WHO estimates, around 85 percent of all global road deaths, 90 percent of the disability-adjusted life years lost due to crashes, and 96 percent of all children killed worldwide as a result of road traffic injuries occur in low-income and middle-income countries.

A drinking problem?

The campaign to change public attitudes towards drinking and driving should be sustained for a long time because alcohol consumption is one of the biggest issues facing Asian countries, especially Vietnam, where it is traditionally consumed at every family and community function.

FINES FOR DRUNK DRIVING

- Motorbikes: From VND200,000 to VND400,000 for drivers with BAC between 50mg/100ml and 80mg/100ml, or BrAC between 0.25mg/l and 0.4 mg/l.  Fines go up to between VND500,000 and VND1 million for higher levels.

- Cars: From VND600,000 and VND800,000 for  drivers with BAC under 50mg/100ml or BrAC under 0.25mg/l.  Fines are increased to between VND2 million and VND3 million for drivers with BAC between 50mg/100ml and 80mg/100ml, or BrAC between 0.25mg/l and 0.4 mg/l. These fines will be doubled for drivers with higher levels.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade has recorded Vietnam's per capita alcohol consumption in 2010 at 30.3 liters of beer and 4.2 liters of other kinds of liquor. It also estimates that Vietnamese citizens spend more than VND6 trillion (US$291.72 million) a year on drinking.

Beer companies reported sales of 230 million liters of beer in May, 11 percent higher than the same month last year. The increasing consumption is also reflected in traffic accidents.

The Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi has said that it admits an average of 20,000 patients from traffic accidents a year, and about half of them have been found to have consumed alcohol.

A survey by the Health Ministry found that 33.5 percent of Vietnamese people consume alcohol at least once a week. The percentage is 64 percent among men while a majority of survey respondents said they often drink home-brew alcohol.

Meanwhile, local breweries are opening more factories as beer consumption has drastically increased over the past years.

At a conference on corporate social responsibility, Heineken said it sold 200 million liters of beer in Vietnam in 2010, making the country the third top consuming market of the brand, following the US and France.

The Saigon Beer Company (Sabeco) said it sold more than one billion liters of beer last year, 21 percent more than in 2009. The company has set a sales target of 1.3 billion liters for this year and 2 billion liters by 2015.

According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, local companies brewed more than 714 liters of beer in the first quarter this year, up 9.2 percent over last year.

Among the nation's 350 breweries, 35 can produce more than 15 million liters per year and the number of breweries has increased rapidly.

On June 11, the Hanoi Beer Company inaugurated a factory in Hai Phong City. The VND472 billion plant is expected to produce 25 million liters per year. That capacity is expected to double in later years.

In March, Sabeco opened three factories in Quang Ngai and Ha Nam provinces, with a total investment of more than VND2 trillion and total capacity of 300 million liters per year. A month earlier, the company had broken ground or another VND480 billion factory in Ha Tinh to produce 50 million liters of beer per year.

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