The government wants to halve the death toll by 2020, a tall order especially in Vietnam’s big cities where traffic flow is rising rapidly against infrastructure that is struggling to catch up.

On a busy intersection in downtown Hanoi, a motorcyclist is seen going against the flow of traffic before cutting sharply across four lanes to make an illegal U-turn. Stunts like these are a daily feature on Vietnam’s city roads.

Helmets became mandatory for motorcyclists in 2007, but it is easy to spot people without helmets on bikes - whether solo, in pairs or multiples.

Hanoi’s traffic chaos may make for quirky tourist memories, but for the country's millions of road users, like 30-year-old mother of one Tran Phuong Lien, it is a silent killer. She looks unharmed, but suffers internal injuries from a recent accident.

Lien, an accident victim, said: “I was riding on the street when a minivan suddenly came out of an alley. I was startled, slammed on the brake and fell onto the ground. Another motorbike a few metres behind also lost control and couldn't stop in time. It hit me on the back and crashed into my abdomen. All I felt was pain.”

Lien now takes the bus to work even though the journey takes double the time by motorbike. She is not strong enough yet to move her bike, and she is still traumatised. “Looking at the flow of bikes on the road, I’m terrified,” she said.

The causes of Lien’s accident could be speeding, motorist error, poor road design, or all of them - part of the many reasons behind Vietnam's estimated 25 road deaths a day - about 9,000 a year.

Authorities want to halve the toll to 5,000 a year by 2020, and the national traffic safety agency says it is targeting three areas: enforcement, public education and traffic environment.

Khuat Viet Hung, executive vice-chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, said: “The key thing is behaviour, the key thing is how they act on the road. If you have 100 persons on the road and only five of them violate the law, and (if) we cannot enforce them, then the rest may follow the wrong person.”

A safety campaign alone is not enough, says one expert. Dr Nguyen Huu Huy of the Ho Chi Minh University of Transport, said: “If you want to reduce the number of accidents and also the severity of accidents, you should focus first on the engineering.

“Thirty per cent of accidents in big cities like Ho Chi Minh City happen at intersections due to the conflict area - big conflicts at every intersection - and the poor timing of traffic signals.”

At a massive six-road intersection in Hanoi, conflict is evident at peak hours. As motorists from one road cross a large part of the intersection to another road almost directly opposite, the light turns green on an adjoining road so two lanes of traffic clash at right angles in a sea of motorbikes and cars.

Vietnam is investing heavily in new roads and infrastructure, but experts say engineering for safety has not quite hit home yet.

By Tan Qiuyi - Channel News Asia - December 21, 2015