Vietnam has yet to develop a so-called “culture of safety” because many people still opt for substandard helmets, the man complained.

He suggested that those who use fake protective headgear, along with its producers and dealers, should be fined as they are committing “a crime against the nation,” whereas Vietnamese authorities have just overturned a law that punished passengers for wearing substandard helmets.

The country should teach children on road safety from a very early age and make it an inherent part of the school curriculum if road accidents are to be tackled.

Vietnam ranks 13th worldwide by population (with 87 million people). It is a country of young people with a third of its population aged ten to 24 (according to UNFPA in 2011). Thirty million people use motorcycles for daily transportation. How important are helmets to a young country like this?

Road casualties are preventable by the simple act of wearing a helmet. Certified helmets are proven to reduce the risk of death by 42 percent and severe injury by 69% in the event of a crash. From a human perspective, it is a great tragedy of personal loss and heartbreak when a loved one is lost in the blink of an eye because they did not wear a helmet. The economic cost is alarming, with Vietnam losing 2.9% of GDP every year due to road traffic crashes. This affects everything from poverty reduction to public health and to the overall well-being of the whole country. So protecting our citizens and family must be the highest priority.

Wearing a helmet is a good way to ensure safety; however, Vietnamese people still underestimate its role and tend to buy cheap headwear, which does not protect them well. What do you think about this?

As Vietnam has become increasingly modern and motorized, it has not developed a corresponding ‘culture of safety,’ knowledge and values which must be taught from the youngest ages. Not wearing helmets, driving aggressively, not paying respect to pedestrians, drinking and driving, and reckless driving are considered unacceptable in most nations. By incorporating road safety education into the school curriculum, beginning with the youngest students, we will see Vietnam adopt customs and habits that contribute to a ‘culture of safety.’

The average cost of a certified helmet in Vietnam is about VND150,000-300,000 (US$7-15). Do you think this price is suitable for the people here? What is the average price of helmets in other developed countries?

This price is very affordable and reasonable. Similar quality helmets in other countries can be two to three times more expensive. Considering that most people invest millions of dong in their motorcycle, a 200,000 dong helmet is a cheap “vaccine” to save your life.

The Vietnamese government suggested punishing those using fake helmets. This rule had triggered an outburst of anger before it was nullified. In your opinion, is this rule reasonable?

This rule is very reasonable and the public anger was misdirected. The government planned to launch a multi-faced approach to regulate helmet standards and to punish importers, dealers, and manufacturers of substandard helmets. It is reasonable to also punish those who do not follow the law. Wearing a fake helmet has the same dangerous implications as wearing no helmet. What if people knowingly buy fake medicine and give it to their children? What if their children die as a result? They, and the sellers, and manufacturers should be seriously punished. I see victims of road traffic crashes all the time in hospitals; I understand the consequences of not wearing helmets. It is especially heartbreaking to see the youngest among us suffering from this ultimately preventable ill. More people should visit a hospital emergency room for one hour and see the horror, the blood, and the wasted lives.

Vietnam’s traffic infrastructure has been deteriorated, with some seriously downgraded without any fixing. Moreover, highways in Vietnam have only two lanes (while in Western countries there are four lanes) which are too narrow for vehicles. Last but not least, ‘nail traps’ are the biggest fear for local people. Many have died because of the above reasons. Do you have any comment on this? How does your country manage this?

The issue of appropriate road infrastructure is a global problem, not only in Vietnam. With rapid modernization, and the resulting exploding motorization, it is imperative that proper roads be constructed, as well as existing ones to be carefully maintained. The use of fake and substandard materials must be stopped. This is a crime against the nation, and such companies must be severely punished. We must also accept the limitations of 2-lane roads, and authorities should take stronger action to keep sidewalks cleared, while better monitoring traffic flows on such streets. Progressive ideas such as making some roads ‘one way’ are often used, even in developed countries. These provide substantial improvements. Along with construction and maintenance, there must also be adequate funding allocated to road safety education in the school system, as well as professional Public Awareness Campaigns aired regularly in all forms of media.

The matter of scattering nails is a typical problem that shows the lack of a ‘safety culture’ in Vietnam. It is no more dangerous than running red lights, colliding into pedestrians, drinking and driving, speeding, and not wearing helmets it is symptomatic of a society that does not have good priorities. The answer in the West that has proven most successful? Strict enforcement of all rules and regulations, and severe penalties and fines. Scattering nails, for example, would be a criminal offence in any developed nation, and it should be the same here.

Some long-distance bus drivers in Vietnam prove to be drug addicts, their health and awareness of traffic safety are not inspected carefully. Does this happen in your country?

Inspections, licensing, frequent and random testing, and education and training could quickly help moderate this growing crisis. There is no other magic ‘cure’. Even in the West there are exceptions, where a driver is guilty of drug use or alcohol abuse, but it is rare. And the penalties are swift and severe for offenders, often involving long prison sentences. Along with a culture of safety, Vietnam must also enhance its regulatory system, especially licensing and special training for bus and truck drivers, as well as enhanced inspections of all vehicles. This can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time if proper resources can be allocated to the problem. To my knowledge, most of these regulations already exist in Vietnam, but the question that must be raised is how seriously are they regulated, implemented and enforced?

What is the responsibility of the government and the citizens themselves in using helmets? How did your country educate/encourage people to use helmets?

All societies, no matter how developed, have a basic obligation to ensure that people are well taken of. If the system fails, then all of society suffers the consequences. Protecting ourselves is a moral and ethical obligation each of us has. Why should only part of society obey laws and some not?

In countries where helmet compliance is high, success is always built on two essential initiatives: education and public awareness, teaching people why a law is necessary; and the enforcement of laws. Sadly, not everyone will comply except when they understand helmets’ importance, so it is necessary to punish those who do not obey the law.

Tuoi Tre News - April 1st, 2013