Lack of regulation allows reckless, rude and potentially dangerous security companies to run amok
Motorists of the Ho Chi Minh City Bicycle and Motorbike Federation. Motorbike escorts are not allowed to disrupt traffic under Vietnamese law.
Guards from Titan Security Company raised hell while escorting an Australian motivational speaker's vehicle through Ho Chi Minh City two weeks ago. They did it mostly because they could.
On May 24, HCMC traffic police seized at least three large capacity motorbikes and a car used by Titan to escort Nick Vujicic's vehicle through town.
The guards were caught on video blaring sirens continuously and using clubs to clear traffic for Vujicic's group from Tan Son Nhat International Airport in HCMC to a hotel in District 1.
Like most security companies providing road escort services, Titan was operating illegally because bodyguards are not allowed to control traffic.
Tran Thanh Tra, HCMC traffic police chief, said security companies are allowed to escort clients, but it is illegal for them to clear traffic.
However, it still happens all the time.
Police say that Titan's other violations in the incident included driving in the wrong lane, failing to present driving licenses and documents related to the vehicles, using fake license plates, and ignoring red lights.
Under a 2009 circular by the Ministry of Public Security, only the escorts of senior leaders and foreigners in official visits invited by the Party and the government are allowed to have traffic officers or military forces clear traffic for them.
In other major events, such as bicycle races, motorcycle clubs and security companies can be mobilized to support traffic police.
Le Phung Hao, a board member of Hoa Sen Group, which had invited Vujicic for the visit, said police escorts had been requested and that Titan was hired when that request was rejected.
Following the incident with Vujicic's bodyguards, Vietweek found that most security companies disrupt and control traffic to clear roads in direct violation of the law.
The price for a motorbike escort is around VND300,000 (US$14) per hour. The companies supply high capacity motorbikes and even body guards equipped with Tasers and rubber-bullet guns.
The illegal services have frustrated residents who have then been forced to deal with worse traffic and the disrespect of wild guards on power trips.
Quynh, a resident in Tan Binh District, said she witnessed a roaring group of high capacity motorbikes clearing the way for a funeral on Cach Mang Thang Tam Street last month, causing serious gridlock.
"People were ready to make way for a funeral but we became angry because they hired the motorbike escorts to rudely make the way," she said.
Hai of Tan Phu District said he was taking his child home on May 25 when a group of motorbikes screamed down the road to make way for a wedding car.
"The escorts' excessive actions have frustrated the public because they think they are like the traffic police but we know they don't have the power to do so," he said.
Experts said Vietnam should allow private security companies to provide vehicle escorts so long as they are licensed, properly trained and register every trip with traffic police.
Pham Truong Ho, who runs the popular local car forum otophamgia, said in Vietnam, the private security companies that would provide such services would likely be the motorcycle clubs that have traditionally been called upon to do so.
"But these clubs are not professional," he said. "It's time for the government to train and allow them to offer escort services to meet a rising demand," he said.
Nguyen Van My, chairman of the HCMC-based Lua Viet Tours, said motorbike clubs should be allowed to make way for tourists.
"However, there should be strict regulations on the issue, like the service has to register with the traffic police for every trip."
Many large capacity motorcycle clubs are waiting with bated breath.
Ngo Quang Vinh, general secretary of the HCMC Bicycle and Motorbike Federation, said his agency's members are willing to provide vehicle escorts.
"The agency has escorted many famous football players like David Beckham and Fabio Cannavaro after seeking permission from the city authorities," he said.
"We are quite capable of making way and protecting politicians and stars as well as other services. This would be a professional service that contributes to the image of the city," he said.
However, Tim Russell, a Briton who used to live and work in Vietnam for 10 years and is now sales and marketing director for the Remote Lands travel agency in Thailand, said expats, especially those from the UK and Australia, do not get the reverence for VIPs that exists in Asia.
"Any politician or celebrity who tried to use a motorbike escort in England would get slapped down pretty quickly and rightly so," Russell said.
* KHANH AN contributed to this report
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