Tuoi Tre News asked two Frenchmen to comment on an ongoing campaign in which police are cracking down on foreigners violating traffic laws in Ho Chi Minh City.
In the campaign’s first phase, which lasts from August 1 to 15, police officers will look to disseminate traffic rules to non-Vietnamese in the city.
Foreigners will only receive warnings for their traffic violations in this phase.
From August 16 until the end of October, the municipal police will increase patrols and impose traffic fines on foreigners who break traffic rules.
Many Vietnamese have shown support for this movement, saying they believe some foreigners tend to behave inappropriately when driving on the streets of Vietnam.
Here is what two foreigners interviewed by Tuoi Tre News, both expats living in Ho Chi Minh City, think about the initiative.
Laws should be stricter for both foreigners and locals
When I see a foreigner violating traffic laws here, I feel angry because it gives a negative image of foreigners in Vietnam. However, I think it is not commonplace at all. Personally, I don't think foreigners specifically violate the law as much as Vietnamese people do.
I see every day hundreds of violations by local people and it seems normal for the locals to behave like that, which is just unbelievable. They are even surprised that we, foreigners, react or overreact because it causes us safety issues, accidents or anger when we drive to work, home or anywhere else.
Of course, I know some foreign people who don't respect the law here. It's a pity for sure, but the main problem here is about the culture of respect. If foreign people don't feel respected by local drivers, it doesn't encourage them to respect local laws. Honestly, if you ask any foreigners what the main issues of living here are, driving will come on the top of the list almost for sure. We think that “I see hundreds of violations every day, no one get caught, or they're just slightly punished, but when it comes to me as a Westerner, I get extremely severe punishment?” When the culture of respect changes more and more people will respect the laws.
Another problem in Vietnam is that foreigners see that they can get rid of the problem after paying fines. In Western countries, we also have very strict laws, but much more dissuasive to the drivers. For example, you can lose your license very easily and get a much heavier fine than here. You will be registered in some kind of police files every time you get a ticket or you'll even have a conviction in police court, so again it is much more dissuasive than here. The system needs to be changed, to be much stricter and more dissuasive, but for everyone, not just foreigners. If people have to pay VND500,000 (US$21) or VND1 million ($43) for a fine, they will think twice before they want to make a violation, and fear getting caught for it.
Also, driving licenses should have points like we do in France. For example, in my country, new drivers start with six points, probation is three years for everyone. If there is no conviction or violation, they will get two extra points every year until 12 points at most. The points would be taken away every time drivers make violations until they have no point left, then their license would be revoked.
Maybe if we can have small changes, then fewer violations will happen and both foreigners and Vietnamese will improve their driving skills.
Raphael Galuz from France
Stricter motorbike rental procedure
Here we may need to distinguish foreign tourists from expats.
Often foreign tourists do not have the valid driver’s license and are often the ones involved in the accidents if we refer to newspapers. They obviously rent motorbikes without knowing how dangerous Vietnamese traffic is and are the main source of headlines involving foreigners in accidents or dangerous behaviors. But these cases are about valid documents and short stays.
When I was stopped by the police, which has occurred several times, I presented my driving license and papers. They are often surprised and have no choice but to let me go.
Once, when I forgot to turn my lights on during a night drive, I was pulled over and I paid the fine, like I would do in France.
The policeman and I were able to communicate by gestures and my basic Vietnamese and the basic English of the officer, which was enough for a sufficient dialogue.
It is a personal story but what I am trying to say here is that I am a long-term expat and I live in a Vietnamese environment, far from Thao Dien Ward in District 2 or District 7, where most foreigners live; so the district where I live is almost 100 percent Vietnamese. The Vietnamese drivers are statistically the majority of the traffic violators.
It is true that in Thao Dien you will see foreigners, mostly Westerners, without helmets, which seems to be the most common violation, and driving carelessly.
In my opinion, the violations mostly happen in Thao Dien, are mostly located there, and are not the majority.
Firstly, foreigners, especially Westerners, usually do not drive motorbikes in their own country but they drive cars instead.
This is an important point because while they have to respect traffic rules in the U.S. or Europe when driving a car, they may see motorbikes as a more 'free' way of transportation.
Moreover, the size of Thao Dien is quite small and the way we call this neighborhood a ‘village’ seems to give a ‘vacation’ feeling to its inhabitants.
There are just a few foreigners in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City with these ‘habits’ and we may not see it as a common trait of the majority in terms of respect for traffic laws.
Knowing that may be beneficial for all of us, Vietnamese and expats. Preventing inappropriate and dangerous driving behavior can be done by focusing on motorbike renting procedures for tourists and areas where there are many Westerners involved in violations.
Christopher Denis-Delacour from France