Editor’s note: Canadian Bill Harany expressed his thoughts on traffic in Vietnam in response to a request from Tuoi Tre News. In his comments, Harany called out local drivers on a variety of behaviors he disagrees with, as well as offered up his opinion how those behaviors might be changed.
I have lived in Vietnam for about six years. I’ve ridden my motorbike to Lung Cu in the very north of the country and to Dat Mui in the very south. I’ve ridden from Tra Vinh to Dak Mil twice. I prefer staying away from cities but I have ridden in Hanoi, Ben Tre, My Tho, Can Tho, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, Kon Tum, Buon Ma Thuot, Chau Doc, Hoi An, Sa Pa, and Ha Giang.
I am glad when people ask me how many times I’ve seen people obey traffic laws – it’s a much shorter answer than if I’m asked how many people in Vietnam don’t.
Drivers in Vietnam seem to think traffic laws are merely guidelines, not laws. For example, to be able to talk on a mobile phone while driving, many people wedge the top of their phone into their helmet so that they can keep both hands on the handlebars. Though they’re breaking the law by using a phone while driving, they think by not using a hand to hold the phone the situation is less dangerous.
Trucks and buses in Vietnam drive where and how they want because they are bigger, have louder (illegally loud?) horns, pass in dangerous situations, have blinding headlights, and generally force smaller vehicles out of the way because they can’t (or won’t) stop to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
I’ve also seen countless parents riding with one hand while holding a young baby with the other. I don’t understand it. Maybe they aren’t concerned with whether they themselves live or die, but how they can put their own child’s life at risk is beyond me.
|Bill Harany is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News|
After six years of living in here in Vietnam, I can come up with a mile-long list of traffic behaviors that I don’t agree with – entering a side road without stopping to check for traffic, not using turn signals, using cellphones to talk or text while driving, traveling at night without headlights, riding motorbikes and bicycles side by side with friends and completely blocking traffic lanes, driving on the sidewalk, and allowing children not to wear helmets, to name a few. These are all actions and habits that are dangerous and likely to cause accidents.
Too many drivers and pedestrians seem to rely on others for their safety. For example, I rarely see pedestrians take the shortest, safest route when crossing a road. They often walk diagonally across the road, thereby prolonging the amount of time they are on the road with motorbikes and cars swerving around them. I also constantly see pedestrians choosing to walk on the street, rather than the sidewalk, even when there is no need. As a driver, it seems that I am expected to be more responsible for others than they are for themselves.
I have asked many students if they are taught traffic safety in school and very few say “yes.” One friend I asked thought that schools offering traffic safety lessons was a silly idea and told me that it should be solely parents' responsibility to teach their children how to be safe drivers and pedestrians. But if the parents are bad and unsafe drivers, how can they teach their children? For this reason, I believe that the main reason for such widespread disregard for traffic safety is a lack of education.
I’ve met many people who say that they will never return to Vietnam because of how bad the traffic is here. This means the country’s entire tourism industry is taking a hit because of Vietnam’s reputation as being one of the worst countries in the world for driving.
In my opinion, all of this can be fixed by building better roads. Too many of Vietnam’s roads are too narrow with too many potholes. Many roads are so narrow that cars and trucks are forced to drive in the middle of the roadway. When automobiles meet an oncoming vehicle, it’s the motorbikes and bicycles around them who are forced off the road.
I also believe that it is imperative that traffic safety be taught in schools and that a traffic hotline be opened so that people can report dangerous drivers, such as bus drivers who use cellphones, hit-and-run drivers, and drunk drivers.
Police should enforce laws more strictly and launch a public relations campaign. In Canada, traffic police go to public schools to talk to children about safety and create connections with local communities.