Low quality helmets diminish Vietnam's road safety efforts: WHO

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  The successful implementation of Vietnam's mandatory motorcycle helmet policy is being hindered by low quality helmets and a low usage rate among children, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a recent press release.

According to the WHO, while Vietnam's law mandates that children 6 years of age and older wear helmets, less than 40 percent of children currently comply.

"With millions of children traveling by motorcycle each day, the majority are being needlessly exposed to a much greater risk of serious or even fatal head injuries," Takeshi Kasai, WHO Representative in Vietnam, said in the press release.

The substandard quality of many helmets worn in Vietnam is also of great concern, the WHO said.

Research by the United Nations agency last year showed that more than 80 percent of helmets being worn by motorcycle riders did not meet the national standards for quality and were particularly deficient in terms of impact protection.

"Substandard helmets provide virtually no protection in the event of a crash," said Kasai. 

Thus, Vietnam still faces challenges, even though its helmet wearing rates have been maintained at over 90 percent since 2007, when it became compulsory for motorcycle riders, WHO said.

Another major risk factor for road safety in Vietnam, it said, is drunk-driving.

Its study in 2010 showed that nearly 28 percent of motorcycle riders admitted to hospitals after being involved in accidents had blood alcohol levels in excess of the legal limit.

"Stringent police enforcement has been shown to be one of the most effective approaches in reducing alcohol related road traffic crashes," said Kasai.

He said since "comprehensive legislation" for motorcycle helmets and prevention of drunk-driving is already in place, Vietnam's focus now must be on "implementation and enforcement for the potential to be realized."

According to WHO, traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and disability in Vietnam.

It quoted the Ministry of Health as saying that more than 15,000 people were killed more than 40 each day - and an additional 400,000 people were hospitalized with serious injuries from traffic accidents in 2010.

It is estimated that traffic accidents cost Vietnam about 2.9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

In other related news, market management agencies across the country have started inspecting helmet manufacturers and sellers nationwide.

The three-month inspection was launched after the Ministry of Justice announced that a circular which imposes fines of VND100,000-200,000 on motorcycle riders caught wearing poor quality helmets will not take effect on April 15 as had been scheduled previously.

Speaking to the press, the ministry's spokesman Tran Tien Dung said the regulation's merit is "unconvincing," because it is difficult to tell which helmets meet quality standards, not only for citizens but also traffic officers, given the mass presence of copycats in the market.

Previously the circular drew significant criticism from the public, with people saying that manufacturers and sellers, not users, should be responsible for the quality of a helmet.

The circular was jointly issued by the ministries of science and technology, industry and trade, public security, and transport.

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