Plan to make roads safer

Published: 14/04/2011 05:00



Like many visitors to Viet Nam, Anne
Hellinker is in a quandary – she wants to explore more of the country but
doesn’t want to die in the process.

The Nga Tu So overpass in the
western part of Ha Noi has helped cut down traffic congestion and accidents in
the area. (Photo: VNS)

retired Briton is in awe of my steely nerves. “How brave of you to drive in all
that traffic!” she says with a look of dread in her eyes.

And it’s
not an emotion limited to foreign visitors. Le Hoang Huy, a middle-aged Hanoian,
refuses to let his 15-year-old daughter cycle in the city. In fact he trusts no
one with his precious cargo. Instead, he insists on driving her himself to
school, evening classes and her piano lessons.

“Crossing the street here is a life and death experience. The traffic is getting
worse,” he says.

Viet Nam
is in what is called a “motorisation period”, with the number of cars and
motorbikes increasing by 12-14 per cent annually.

population is also increasing by about 1 million a year. Unfortunately,
infrastructure development is being left behind, Than Van Thanh, chairman of the
National Traffic Safety Committee, says.

crashes account for 95 per cent of all transport accidents and 97 per cent of
casualties, he says.

comparison with other countries, the number of road deaths per 100,000 people in
Viet Nam is high – 13 compared with 6.7 in mainland China, 5.2 in Japan and 3-5
in Europe. However, road deaths regionally are worse in Malaysia (23.6) and
Thailand (19.6), according to a recent report by the Ministry of Transport.

caused by road accidents in 2007 alone were equivalent to about 2.9 per cent of
the country’s gross domestic product, or VND32.6 trillion (US1.9 billion, 2007
exchange rate).

The number of accidents, casualties
and injuries increased sharply in Viet Nam from 1999 (by 8.3-10.7 per cent on a
yearly basis) and only began to fall after 2003.

decrease, however, is “far from sustainable and stable”, the report states.

tackle the problem, the Transport Ministry drafted the 2011-20 National Traffic
Safety plan. It is expected to get the Government’s nod of approval in the
second quarter. The draft aims to reduce the number of road deaths per 100,000
people by about 40 per cent to eight by 2020.

country is aiming for “a safe living environment… full of humanity and without
accidents,” the draft report states.

the strategy, VND41 trillion ($2 billion) will be spent on various projects to
improve law enforcement, traffic management, road upgrades, training and
licensing, first aid, rescue and education.

Precise goals

More than 100 accidents

More than 100 traffic accidents
left 115 people dead and 95 injured between April 10 and 13 during the
national holiday commemorating Hung Kings, according to the Department of
Road and Railway Traffic Police.

About 42,000 traffic violations
were punished with total fines collected of up to VND10 billion (US$476,000)
during the holiday.

The number of accidents was lower
than the last five-day Tet (lunar new year) celebration which saw 370
accidents and 288 deaths.

Do Tien
Duc, who helped draft the plan, says its goals have been “carefully worked out”.
However, World Bank transport specialist Tran Thi Van Anh says the draft’s goals
are “probably unrealistic given the current situation and scope of the problem
across the country and the current institutional capacity”.

it is encouraging to see a formal overall target set and many performance
measures identified for several interventions in the draft strategy, there will
need to be a large investment and very effective intervention to realise the
targets set,” she says.

chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, agrees. “It will be very
challenging to achieve the goals,” he says.

To lift
the GDP by 1 per cent, volume of transport must rise 1.5 per cent, he says.

“So if
Viet Nam is set to have its GDP rise by 6 per cent a year, the volume of
transport needs to increase by 9 per cent on a yearly basis,” Thanh says.

transport safety expert Takagi Michimasa, from the Japan International
Co-operation Agency, says the draft’s goal of reducing road fatalities by 40 per
cent within 10 years was eminently achievable.

He said
Japan managed to halve the number of road casualties between 1970 to 1980, even
though the number of vehicles doubled over the same period.

accidents he says are the result of ignorance and unsafe driving.

they get used to the new environment, they can learn how to avoid having
accidents,” Michimasa says.

This agrees with a report by the Transport Ministry that states
most road accidents in Viet Nam (85 per cent) were the result of drivers
breaking traffic
regulations, with speeding being a
primary cause.

Experience in industrialised countries indicates that the number of road deaths
increases rapidly in the initial motorisation period and sharply drops within a
few years if intensive traffic safety countermeasures are introduced, Michimasa

the number of road casualties in Viet Nam has remained virtually unchanged since

suggests safety measures so far adopted are “not sufficient enough to enhance
road users’ knowledge and awareness,” he adds.

WB specialist Van Anh says the Government has implemented several
key important road-safety initiatives, such as the creation of the National
Traffictraffic law in 2001. But she says more needs to be done.

Safety Committee in 1997 and the introduction of a road.

is still considerable work to do to improve the integration and co-ordination of
multi-agencies activities, which, from the point of view of the population,
still appears disparate and to not have had much impact on improving motorists’
behaviour,” she says.

says poor traffic education programmes a decade ago were largely to blame for
the currently mayhem on the country’s roads.

Teenagers, particularly those aged between 15 and 18, have already adopted
dangerous ways of driving. That doesn’t bode well for the future, he says.

Michimasa agrees that traffic safety education should begin at a very young age.
He also says infrastructure needs to be upgraded and law enforcement stepped up,
and that the emergency services should be improved.

Meanwhile, Dr Khuat Viet Hung, dean of the University of Transport’s Transport
Planning and Management Department, says priority should be given to improving
traffic management rather than infrastructure.

we’re able to build new roads, we need to make the best use of the existing
ones,” he says.

A wary
Hellinker says Viet Nam should improve public transport – as does Huy.

In the
meantime, Hell-inker is busy Googling road safety tips in Viet Nam. As for Huy,
he says he will only let his daughter cycle when she turns 18.

Nam News

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