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Friday, October 7, 2022

A tough nut to crack: changing drivers’ habits

Updated: 10:54’ - 05/05/2008

Colorful, shiny helmets created a new look for Vietnam’s teeming city streets once the Government’s new regulation requiring all motorbike riders to wear helmets took effect on December 15.

Compliance with the new rule, which aimed to cut back surging number of traffic fatalities in recent years, hit an impressive rate of 95% across the nation, with big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City registering as high as 98-99%, leaving well-prepared police forces “jobless” and pleasing the most demanding lawmakers.

Compliance was surprisingly high, said Captain Cao Tran Duc of the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department’s Traffic Police Division, citing a voluntary compliance rate of merely 10-20% only a few days before the mandatory rule came into force.

Optimistic officials believe a helmet-wearing habit has been formed, giving rise to the hope that traffic discipline will also subsequently increase.

It might be too early to say without taking a deeper look into how and why people complied with the new law, analysts said.

A quick survey of more than 11,600 motorists observed at intersections in Hanoi conducted by Viet Duc Hospital showed that in the first nine days after the law came into force, only 12% wore helmets properly while the rest either did not fasten chin-straps or left them too loosely.

It meant that just a small number of motorcyclists with helmets would be protected when accidents occurred, said Dr. Dong Van He of Viet Duc Hospital’s Neurosurgery Ward. This reflected that most people wore helmets for the sake of the new rule rather than caring about their safety, he said.

Analysts also agreed that most motorbike riders wore helmets, derided as rice cookers, to avoid hefty fines, which ranged between VND 150,000 and VND 200,000, more than the cost of a cheap helmet.

This was also seen in the way violations were uncovered. In Hanoi, more than 40% of violations were detected by patrolling police forces, the number of which was less than one-fifth of those stationed at intersections to ensure law enforcement, proving how easily motorists had managed to pass police stations.

Lack of sense of traffic rule observance was largely to blame, analysts said, pointing out that in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, violations of traffic rules such as running red lights, driving on the wrong side of a road, in wrong lanes or on sidewalks, underage driving and drunk driving, have become common on most roads and intersections. Many motorbike riders were so irresponsible that they could readily stop in the middle of a road in rush hour to buy something from street vendors without caring about those behind them.

Lack of traffic discipline was even seen in pedestrians, of whom 80-90% crossed the roads in the middle of flowing traffic without using priority light systems or overpasses built for them.  

Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Pham Van Thinh, head of the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department’s Traffic Police Division, stressed that violations were prompted by the undisciplined sense of traffic participants rather than their ignorance of the rules.

Michimasa Takagi, chief advisor to a project on human resource development for traffic safety agreed that most traffic participants understood the significance of traffic lights but still they did not observe them. In countries with developed traffic rules, it was always safe for pedestrians if the green light was on, but it was different in Hanoi. It was even not safe for pedestrians on sidewalks where motorbikes readily drive to bypass traffic jams, he told Tin Tuc (News) newspaper.

Duong Quang Tho, a lawyer with Ho Chi Minh City’s Justice Service also pointed out the counter-intuitiveness of Vietnam’s traffic circulation. Violations such as running red lights, weaving and speeding were considered normal while observing traffic rules has become abnormal. Traffic participants appeared to know only the concept of “cannot do” rather than “must not do” while on roads, he said.

Statistics of the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department’s Traffic Police Division showed that traffic violations had continually risen over the past few years. In the first seven months of 2007, nearly 700,000 violations were reported in Ho Chi Minh City alone, 130,000 more than same period of the previous year. 2006 recorded almost 1.3 million cases of violations with fines reaching over VND 100 billion, double the figure of 2005.

Lack of traffic discipline was the cause of 86% of traffic accidents, Colonel Thinh said, adding that improper crossing by pedestrians alone caused 11-12% of traffic accidents and was one of the four leading causes of traffic accidents.

Statistics from the Road and Railway Traffic Police Department and the National Traffic Safety Committee showed that traffic accidents killed almost 13,000 in 2007, a 4% increase over 2006. Nearly 14,5000 road and railway traffic accidents occurred in 2007, injuring about 16,660 people.

Traffic accidents were also one of the top ten killers of the population. Each day some 33 were killed in traffic accidents and this number rose together with the rising number of registered motorbikes which now stood at over 22 million. Costs related to traffic accidents consumed 2% of national GDP (around USD 1 billion).

Non-observance of traffic laws was also a major reason behind serious traffic jams in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City which had grown into a major headache for urban managers and planners as well as residents. About 70 streets and crossroads in Hanoi and more than 90 in Ho Chi Minh City were constantly backed up with traffic jams. Damage caused by traffic congestion cost Ho Chi Minh City VND 14,000 billion (more than USD 9 million) each year.

Strict sanctions and steep fines must be imposed on violators, Colonel Thinh said, listing drastic measures to be taken by the city police, including sending notices on traffic rule violators to local government agencies; compulsory learning and testing on the Road Traffic Law for violators committing accident-causing faults; increasing control and handling of accident-causing violations; and camera-aided handling of violations.

Mr. Tho said traffic rule propagation should be more practical, suggesting to place at intersections banners that read, for instance, “running red lights is fined VND 200,000.”

Deputy Director of the Hanoi Police Department Do Kim Tuyen also said the capital city would take measures to improve traffic order such as temporary custody of violating vehicles, confiscation of illegal racing vehicles and separation of lanes for different vehicles.

Hanoi had successfully operated a model traffic route in one of its busiest streets Thai Ha-Chua Boc where lanes were separated for different vehicles and traffic rules were strictly observed.

This model was put into operation in another crowded traffic point of the city, Dai Co Viet-Tran Khat Chan route, from January 12, where lanes for automobiles, motorbikes and bicycles were physically separated. Fines ranged from VND 40,000 to VND 400,000 for users of different vehicles, said Pham Quoc Ban, head of Hanoi’s Traffic Safety Propagation Committee, stressing that fines would be strictly imposed as for helmet law violations.

This traffic model, part of the Japanese-funded project on human resource development for traffic safety, was expected to be introduced for a route in Hanoi every year in a bid to build the city into a model of traffic order and safety in Asia.

However, apart from concerned authorities’ efforts, every citizen should change behavior and conform to a traffic culture for substantial improvement of urban traffic, Mr. Takagi told Tin Tuc (VLLF).-

VNL_KH1 

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