When it comes to penalizing foreign traffic offenders, it is no easy task for most police officers in Vietnam.
According to police in the south-central city of Nha Trang, the language barrier is one of the main obstacles preventing officers from handling violations made by foreigners effectively.
When officers communicate with offenders in English, in many cases they pretend that they do not understand by speaking another language.
However foreign language incompetence is also an obstruction when dealing with the expat offenders, Colonel Nguyen Van Canh, head of the traffic police office in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, explained.
One officer of the Nha Trang City traffic police unit admitted that he found it very difficult to deal with foreign traffic violators.
“I had no idea how to tell them what their mistake was after asking them to stop their vehicles,” he explained.
Many officers claimed that the uncooperative attitude of foreign traffic offenders is to blame, according to Lieutenant Colonel Huynh Trung Phong, deputy head of Ho Chi Minh City traffic police.
“Some [foreigners] refused to present their identity documents or left their vehicles for fear of having their passports checked,” he said.
The lieutenant colonel told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that his office had established units specializing in foreign languages and experienced in problem-solving to deal with foreign traffic violators.
“This will be done by guiding them to follow traffic regulations,” Lieutenant Colonel Phong said.
Why expats violate traffic laws
According to General Dao Vinh Thang, head of Hanoi traffic police, there are many cases of expats riding on bikes without helmets, which violates the country’s traffic regulations.
“Many have claimed that they were not aware of their mistakes because they were here [Vietnam] for the first time, while some confessed that they had yet to buy helmets,” General Thang recounted.
Many traffic violations are also due to the ease of renting a vehicle in Vietnam, whereas lots of motorbike rental service operators pay little attention to their customers’ origin and to whether or not they have met sufficient conditions and are knowledgeable enough to ride in traffic.
According to the Law on Road Traffic by Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport, drivers must be 18 years old or above in order to ride motorcycles with an engine capacity of 50 cubic meters or more, and must have the appropriate licenses for the types of vehicle they are permitted to operate, granted by relevant state agencies.
In the Ho Chi Minh City center, many motorbike shops offer such vehicles for rent from VND100,000 (US$4.5) to VND200,000 ($9) per day.
A shop owner in District 1 said that customers simply give the shops copies of their passports or pay a deposit if they do not have one.
Some business owners near Tan Son Nhat International Airport will even deliver the vehicles to customers’ accommodations after the deals have been made.
Meanwhile, in Nha Trang City, it is common to see the promotion of bike rental services in multiple languages on major streets like Biet Thu, Nguyen Thien Thuat, and Tran Phu.
According to Huynh Van Nong, a Ho Chi Minh City-based lawyer, foreign riders are punished like Vietnamese citizens when violating the road laws.
“If a violator and the traffic police officer fail to understand each other due to any language barrier or if the violator shows an uncooperative attitude towards the officer, the police can utilize all relevant approaches in a lawful manner to handle the case,” he added.
Vu Manh Quynh, another lawyer in Ho Chi Minh City, said that foreign violators who behave badly towards traffic police officers can be penalized for acting against those on duty.
Lawyer Nong said that foreigners legally residing in Vietnam can exchange their non-Vietnamese driving license for a Vietnamese license via simple and explicit procedure.
License holders from left-hand traffic countries like England, Singapore, and Australia may be asked to test their knowledge of traffic, lawyer Quynh said.
“It is still an obstruction to foreigners who have to get a driving license in Vietnam via examination, as the [transport] ministry has not established a driving course or testing procedure in English for foreigners,” the lawyer added.