The fast and furious take over city streets throughout Traffic Safety Month
An illegal racer performs tricks on Ho Chi Minh City's Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street. The central government is looking to crack down on street racing in the country's biggest cities.
The Ho Chi Minh City municipal administration has asked the central government for permission to enforce stricter penalties against illegal motorbike racing, a growing problem that sees thousands of racers flood the streets of the southern economic hub each week, according to a senior official.
"Municipal authorities are going to propose higher fines against traffic offenses, including illegal racing, than other localities," Le Thanh Hai, secretary of the HCMC Communist Party Committee, told a meeting with constituents in District 10 on Monday (October 3).
HCMC police have reported that the illegal racing problem has grown substantially over the past several months, even during Traffic Safety Month this September.
Between September 23 and 24, police seized 354 motorbikes and issued fines against the drivers of 243 other bikes involved in different illegal races.
Hai blamed the worsening illegal racing problem on "bad impacts from imported cultures" and said the practice had become a "bad habit" among local youth.
"There will be campaigns at schools to raise awareness among the youth [against illegal racing]," he said.
Hai's pledges came after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued official instructions on enforcing the implementation of traffic safety measures on September 24. The instruction was issued after illegal racing problems were reported in Hanoi, HCMC and the southern coastal province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau.
The document instructed traffic police to step up patrols, confiscate all vehicles involved in illegal street races, and conduct more on-the-street blood-alcohol tests to keep drunk driving to a minimum.
"In case [motorbike seizure] is not a deterrent, local authorities in Hanoi, HCMC and Ba Ria-Vung Tau can propose stricter penalties," said the document, which stipulated that proposals should be made by the end of October.
In mid-September, Thanh Nien launched an investigation that found street races in HCMC attracting mobs of more than a thousand participants at a time.
TRANSPORT MINISTER WANTS
ILLEGAL RACING BIKES DESTROYED
Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang says he wants Ho Chi Minh City authorities to take their plan to levy higher fines against illegal motorbike racers one step further by destroying all motorbikes seized during races.
"During a recent meeting with the National Traffic Safety Committee, I proposed that all motorbikes involved in illegal racing be destroyed," he told the VnExpress news website on Wednesday (October 5).
"[Street] racing means fatal accidents for others."
In a bid to reduce traffic accidents and congestions in big cities, Thang has proposed several measures, including a reduction in private vehicles and improving public transport systems and infrastructure.
Thang said his ministry would propose a detailed plan to reduce private vehicles to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in the first quarter of 2012. A draft plan will also be opened for discussions, he said.
The drivers drove aggressively down city streets on souped-up bikes, often performing tricks such as wheelies, zigzagging or driving with their feet. At times, they stop at pre-determined intersections to hold races, between either two racers or groups of six. The mass of riders often stretches for several kilometers down a single street.
This past weekend, Thanh Nien observed similar mobs "storming," the common term in Vietnamese, the streets in District 4.
At around 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, some 200 motorbikes parked on Nguyen Van Cu Bridge connecting districts 4, 8 and 1, cheered a small group of riders performing tricks. Later, the mob stormed District 4's Hoang Dieu Street but quickly fled when traffic police arrived.
However, they returned later and held races there until 5 a.m.
Meanwhile, similar "storms" have been reported in Hanoi. Traffic police in Hanoi reported that they had issued fines against 1,679 drivers this year, of which more than 1,100 were involved in illegal racing.
The races in the capital were also held on weekend evenings, but attracted smaller crowds than HCMC, with groups of between five and ten drivers in each race.
Senior lieutenant colonel Do Quang Tuyen of the Hanoi Police Department said it is difficult to press criminal charges against illegal racers.
According to the Penal Code, illegal racing is considered a criminal violation only if the driver causes damage to the property or health of other people. Drivers caught participating in illegal races can only be fined as an administrative penalty, not a criminal one, unless they are also charged with the above crimes. If charged, such crimes are punishable by jail terms of up to 20 years and fines of between VND5 million and VND30 million.
During the meeting with Hai on Monday, Nguyen Trong, a constituent of District 10 criticized city hall for failing to curb illegal races that have been taking place for years, especially during the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday season and on weekends.
"Is the root cause the lack of action from relevant authorities or lenient penalties?" he asked.
Currently, police seize motorbikes involved in illegal races temporarily and return the bikes when the driver pays relevant fines. Only unregistered motorbikes are fully confiscated and not returned.
Many HCMC residents say that all motorbikes involved in street racing should be confiscated and their drivers required to work community service thereafter.
Other residents said that the street races and other delinquent behavior could be blamed on the lack of recreational options for youth in the crowded city.
By the end of this month, a non-professional motorbike race will be held in Binh Duong Province as the country's first legal race of it kind.
The 125cc four-stroke motorbike race will be held together with the professional Vietnam Motor Cub Prix 2011 race scheduled for October 29 and 30 at the Army Corps No. 4 Stadium in Di An District's Song Than Industrial Park.