Vietnam plans to offer drinkers safe rides home

Thanh Nien News

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A drunk bus driver passed out in a ditch after insulting all of his clients and hitting several electric poles in Quang Ngai Province on May 4, 2014. Photo: Hien Cu A drunk bus driver passed out in a ditch after insulting all of his clients and hitting several electric poles in Quang Ngai Province on May 4, 2014. Photo: Hien Cu


The night was not so young for a man who had collapsed onto the sidewalk of Nguyen Van Cu Street in Ho Chi Minh City last Sunday.
It was well after midnight and his friends, two men and two women, were struggling to rouse or move him.
When they finally managed to get him on his feet, he collapsed onto a woman, sending her flying into a puddle of muddy water.
Friends to the end, the group tried again.
This time, they managed to hoist him onto the back of a motorbike, but he fell again, pinning another woman in the party under the bike.
They said they'd just left a restaurant, a kilometer away, after drinking a huge amount of beer.
A passing Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter did not wait around to watch them resolve the crisis, but so far no major accident involving a similar group has been reported.
That said, it's a fairly common late-night scene.
To make it less frequent, the National Traffic Safety Committee has proposed that restaurants provide a free taxi service to drunk customers.
A source from the committee said the idea will be open to critique in the coming days and is expected to be implemented, on a trial basis, in Hanoi, the central city of Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City this January.
They timed the program to prevent the tragedies that typically occur every Lunar New Year (Tet), the country’s biggest holiday which falls on February 19 of next year.
Traffic accidents killed 80 people and injured 214 others in Vietnam during the first three days of last year's Tet holiday, according to the National Traffic Safety Committee. Many of those accidents occurred among people who were driving home after parties.
But this isn't just a holiday problem.
Vietnam ranked the top beer consumer in Southeast Asia, third in Asia (after China and Japan) and 28th in the world, according to market survey company Eurowatch.
According to the plan, the committee will cooperate with the Vietnam Beer, Alcohol and Beverage Association to persuade several big restaurants to either start refusing service to intoxicated customers or offer them rides home and a place to keep their vehicles overnight.
The restaurants can call taxis or use their own cars.
Select restaurants will receive specific training and support, the official said, citing a similar service at work in other countries.
The service came into wide use in many cities in China after the country criminalized drunk driving in 2011.
The service is also common in South Korea, where drunk driving carries a cash fine and the revocation of one's driver's license--like in Vietnam.
Necessary, but doable?

 A group of friends struggles to get their drunk friend home safe on Duong Ba Trac Street, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tien Long/Tuoi Tre

Hoang Yen Giap, a 34-year-old HCMC local who describes himself as a regular drinker, said the service would make everyone feel safer, particularly the city's housewives.
“I have three or four mornings a month when I wake up and do not remember how I got home,” Giap was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying.
“One time, I woke up and felt pains in my chest and noticed scratches. I went to a hospital and found out I had broken a rib; I don’t know how it happened.”
His friends later told him that they had offered to drive him home but he'd refused.
“The problem is when you’re aware that you’re drunk (and the danger involved in driving), you’re not very drunk, but when you’re really drunk, you won’t admit it.”
Another drinker, who declined to be named, also told Tuoi Tre that the plan won’t work because most drinkers never admit that they are drunk and will fight anyone who tries to help them.
“Drinkers compete by the glass and everyone wants to be the one who drinks the most.
“So if a restaurant manager or waiter comes and tells a customer that he or she is drunk, the customer might never come back.”
Nguyen Ngoc Phuong, the manager of Dung Map restaurant on Truong Chinh Street in Tan Binh District, is afraid she might lose customers through the plan.
“If we insist that a customer is drunk and must leave his motorbike and take a taxi home, he will probably get mad and attack our employees.”
Restauranteurs agreed that a Vietnamese drunk isn't willing to let others drive them home at their expense.
They said only dead drunks allow themselves to be taken home, but frequently cannot explain where they live.
Some taxi drivers might not be thrilled about the plan, either.
Bui Van Quan, a taxi driver, said he won't ever pick up a drunk person again and pointed to four stitches on his arm by way of explanation.
He suffered the wound a week ago.
Quan said the man only managed to mumble words "Thu Duc District" before passing out.
Quan kept circling, to no avail, and decided to take the customer to a massage parlor to help him sober up.
He got him out of the car and moving toward the parlor. On his way back to the car, Quan's customer said something that inspired two parlor security guards to chase after him.
Quan ran out to intervene, but only to be attacked by his customer who'd picked an iron bar up off the ground.
“In the end, I had to drive him to hospital because after hitting me, he fell and broke his nose,” he said. 
Some restaurant managers who have already adopted the policy say not all drunk customers are stubborn.
Quang Hanh, the manager of Sao Bien restaurant in Thu Duc District, says he often keeps his customers’ vehicles overnight for free and persuades them to take a taxi home.
“Many agreed and thanked us,” he said.
“We can't tell them that they’re drunk, we just talk about safety, and say things like 'the traffic is crazy right now' and then offer to call them a taxi.”
Le Tu Thanh, the owner of a restaurant on Quang Trung Street in Go Vap District, said he works with taxi drivers who park nearby and wait for customers.
Sometimes, Thanh uses his own four-seat car to ferry them home. 
Thanh says around ten of his employees are also trained to drive customers home on the back of their motorbikes.
“Restaurants that offer this drive-home service draw more customers because it makes them feel safe,” he said.  “People may be hesitant at the beginning, but I believe they will support it later,” said the restaurant owner who has visited South Korea where he said the service is very popular.

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