After urinalysis results suggested that Tran The Nam was high when hit and killed an old couple in Dak Lak Province, officials acknowledged there are many other addicts on the road.
Most transport businesses do not strictly drug test their drivers and, if they do, they only test for heroin or codeine and not the more commonly-used amphetamines or marijuana.
On October 1, Nam suddenly sped his 16-seat bus into oncoming traffic on a national highway in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.
Seconds later, he hit and killed a husband and wife on a motorbike.
He and ten bus passengers survived with injuries.
Reports from the country’s 63 cities and provinces listed 526 drug-using drivers among more than 130,000 tested.
Businesses in many localities have claimed their drivers are all clean, but a Health Department sweep proved many are either negligent or ingenuous.
In the northern province of Bac Giang, for example, transport businesses did not force their drivers to submit to drug tests at the provincial health department.
The department then picked up five drivers who never went in for tests.
One of them later tested positive in the government audit.
Vu Van Trien, who handles transportation issues at the health ministry, said the number of drug-using drivers is likely much more than 526, for several reasons.
One reason is the transport companies may have tried to avoid health department screeners and instead allowed their drivers to submit bogus test results to avoid the procedure.
Another reason, Trien said, is that “current drug tests only examine a driver's urine, while in order to be exact, they must examine blood, which costs more.”
He also said most localities do not test drivers for marijuana and amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), including meth and ecstasy.
“The most worrying group of drugs is not heroin/codeine, but ATS which induces a mental high and delusions.
“The police have busted a lot of meth and ecstasy-users, so there’s no reason driver tests shouldn't be tested for those substances,” Trien said.
The Health Ministry has ordered medical centers to test drivers for meth and ecstasy as well, from now on.
Strict from the get-go
Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, deputy head of the road traffic police department at the Ministry of Public Security, said addicts should be screened out during the commercial driver's license issuance and recruitment process.
Tuan said it’s not practical to check them after that.
“Traffic officers cannot stop every driver and screen him/her for drugs," he said.
“They need blood and urine tests and trained medical technicians to read the results.”
Representatives from the transport businesses said they sack any driver found using drugs.
But officials are concerned that the drivers can seek out clean results and apply for a job at a different company.
The Health Ministry has therefore suggested that the Transport Ministry revoke the license of businesses that employ multiple drug-abusers, to scare others into strictly testing their staff.
Nguyen Hong Truong, Minister of Transport, said he has ordered all transport businesses to seek proper medical checks for all drivers, especially those working with container trucks and passenger buses.
Soon, there will also be tests for taxi drivers, Truong said.