Head Injury in Vietnam
A Developing Country Struggles to
Cope with Head Injury in Traffic
Subject: VI:Traffic casualties in VN rise 300% each year
From: Vietnam Insight - email@example.com
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 16:08:41 -0700
The Vietnam Business Journal
A Lesson in Driving
Like most cities, Hanoi has its tourist attractions,
but to locate the pulse of the people and indeed
the culture, one need only walk its streets.
BY JOSHUA JAKE LEVINE
Any of the meandering alleys or tree-lined avenues will be choked
with vendors selling prickly, blood-red dragonfruit, pulpy
mangoes or flopping, live fish from twin baskets. Flowers are
sold from bicycles. Another sight is the cyclo driver pedaling a
load of 20-foot copper pipes. At 3 p.m. chattering schoolgirls
wash into the streets, five across on bicycles. In the early
evening, after the rain, good-looking teenagers court
continuously from their motorbikes, as they lap around Ho Chi
Minh Park or Lenin Park.
Unfortunately, this placid imagery is also the scenery of death.
"The damage caused by traffic accidents stands just behind that
caused by the war," said Colonel Tran Dao, traffic director for
the Hanoi Police Department, at a recent seminar on the dramatic
rise in traffic fatalities. According to Dao, in the last seven
years moving traffic in Vietnam has accounted for 30,000 deaths
and 94,000 injuries. In the first five months of this year alone,
2,463 people were killed and 9,182 injured. Each year the number
of casualties increases by about 300%.
Yet presently Hanoi's density of vehicles is among the lowest in
the world, as is the country's in general. These days are
probably the twilight of a time virtually without traffic jams,
where one could imagine that if most people drove according to
basic principles, the feeling of this city of three million could
be that of a village.
Instead, as the colonel implied, it often resembles a war zone.
Motorbikes share the roads with seven other common types of road
traffic, including oxen and pedestrians, who cannot be
accommodated by narrow sidewalks separated from the streets by a
system of open sewers. But the problem becomes crystal clear to
any driver at one definitive moment: the intersection.
When the subject of traffic arises in a room of non-Vietnamese
living in Hanoi, as it inevitably does, there are otherwise
intelligent participants who offer, "The Vietnamese have an
innate sense of traffic. They don't actually turn their head to
look both ways, but the flow, if you watch carefully, is not
unlike a graceful dance."
This reporter watched carefully the intersection of Hang Gai and
Hang Hom, located in the city's old quarter, as bicycles and
motorbikes continually collided with each other before
It wasn't dancing.
A complete lack of yield signs or lights, in combination with
behavior that is contrary to traffic order, helps explain those
sad statistics. Driving habits that are consistent, include
making a left-hand turn from the right side of the lane, weaving,
speeding, using high beams in heavy traffic, entering traffic
without looking first, passing on the left and driving on the
wrong side of the road.
Recounted a Hanoi-based lawyer who drives a car, "Three other
cars and mine arrived at a roundabout [cement traffic circle] at
the same time and blocked each other. For ten minutes, nobody
moved. I sat and read the paper."
Dao reports that of 60,000 road accidents, 85% were caused by
"people's subjective sensibility," including 32% by speeding, 29%
by improper turning and passing, and 11.3% by drunk drivers. Dao
observes that "a lack of traffic discipline and the law-breaking
in society increases day by day."
The Law on Traffic Order passed by the Prime Minister in 1995 was
meant to provide a solution, but one problem could be that few
people seem to know its content, as the box on page 28
illustrates. Possible exceptions are those in the country who
voluntarily purchased it from a government bookstore for $1.50
(1996 per capita yearly income: $300). Driving classes and
comprehensive driving exams have yet to be introduced.
Nonetheless, there are over 500,000 motorbikes and 60,000 cars on
Hanoi's roads, and more than double that in Ho Chi Minh City.
Dao suggests that the mass media should take over and traffic law
should become a subject in high schools, as is common in other
countries. He noted that people should wear helmets, as most
traffic fatalities are caused by "death from a broken skull." Dao
also recommended that cement road curbs should be replaced with
curbs coated with a soft material. But only by strict development
and enforcement of traffic rules, he concluded, can the roadways
Of course, terrible driving does not alone explain the perils of
The country's old, narrow streets were not designed for today's
population, and sometimes other infrastructure failings pop up.
In June drivers in Hanoi's Dong Da district were met with an
oncoming manhole cover, which capped a column of mud and smoke
expelled by a sewer main break.
Offers of help have come from several foreign corners. In
preparation for the November "Francophone Summit," the French
government funded a French firm's installation of 35 traffic
lights and a traffic command center for the local police in
Hanoi. The World Bank also proposed a $10 million traffic
improvement project that would reorder traffic in Hanoi and HCMC.
Although approved by the Ministry of Transportation a year ago,
it has since been sent to the Prime Minister's Office, where it
awaits his final approval. In the meantime, the picture gets
So what kind of person owns a car in Vietnam? There are several
immediate qualifications. First, you must have a chauffeur,
preferably one who can handle the traffic and, of course, stand
beside the car while you attend to your appointments. And while
you sleep, unless your villa or apartment building happens to
include a driveway. According to the Hanoi Peoples' Committee,
the parking system today meets 0.12% of the city's demand, at
52,000 square meters. By 2000, they estimate, the city will
require 1.5 million square meters of parking space.
Edgar Chiongbian, director of BMW's operations in Vietnam,
theorizes that this matter should be taken up by Vietnamese
architects and urban planners. "Leave room for a car park!" he
said. "At least in the neighborhood! Overnight, you'd have a
scenario where you could park your car and go home." Almost no
Vietnamese houses have garages.
Some automakers suggest that more cars means fewer accidents.
Cars, the argument goes, displace other more dangerous forms of
transportation like bicycles and motorcycles. And you don't need
a helmet to keep your skull intact. Yet a spin on city streets
challenges those arguments, at least for the short term.
One executive, in Vietnam to market one of the world's most
well-engineered luxury automobiles, owns one himself but doesn't
dare drive it on the streets of Hanoi. "Can't do anything with it
here," he laments.
Update: November, 2000
The New York Times and the Washington Post have both published stories about Grieg Kraft, an American living in Vietnam who is promoting the use of motorcycle helmets there. Kraft has developed a well-ventilated design for a motor scooter helmet and they will be manufactured locally by the non-profit Asia Injury Prevention Foundation.
Kraft notes for the reporters that fewer than 3 per cent of Vietnamese motor cycle or motor scooter riders use helmets. On an average day 25 riders are killed and over 50 others suffer brain damage or other permanent disabilities there, although the country has only 8,500 miles of paved roads. Their injuries absorb more than 75 per cent of urban hospital budgets, necessitating the use of the old wartime triage system.
US Ambassador Pete Peterson has also gotten into injury prevention issues, and has been urging the Government of Vietnam to take measures to reduce motorcycle and motor bike injuries.
Reported reasons for resistance to helmet use include the cost and fashion issues, plus the heat buildup of non-ventilated helmets in Vietnam's climate. Kraft's non-profit will produce lightweight, ventilated helmets for under $10. He hopes to produce two million helmets per year, and has donations from Ford, American International Group and American President Lines for $750,000 of the $5 million capital he needs.
Nguyen Manh Hung, the vice chairman of the Road Transport Administration of Vietnam, was quoted as saying that reducing traffic-related fatalities was a leading priority of the government this year. A law now requires motorcycle riders to wear helmets on a few highways around the major cities, and will be expanded to most city streets in 2001.
2004 UpdateHere is an article from the Vietnamese News Agency.
And the good news: December 2007
Subject: Letter to Worldwide Partners- Vietnam Helmet Wearing Milestone / A Christmas Gift
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2007 14:00:46 +0700
From: Greig Craft
Dear friends, family and supporters:
December 15, 2007 marked an historic day for Vietnam and for road safety initiatives worldwide. Last Saturday, the enactment date of the country's mandatory helmet law, nearly 100% of Vietnam's motorbike users left home wearing a helmet.
It was an unbelievable sight with a near instantaneous effect. Major hospitals report the number of patients admitted for traumatic brain injuries in the two days after the law's enactment was much lower than on previous weekends. In Ho Chi Minh City alone, serious traffic accident injuries fell by almost 50 percent compared with pre-helmet weekends.
This incredible success comes on the heels of nine years of dedicated lobbying and program work by the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIPF). Since 1999, we have worked hard to bring about this new law and, at the same time, cultivate an environment of traffic safety awareness and helmet acceptance in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. These efforts have included a broad spectrum of programs:
- Protec Helmets: our nonprofit 'tropical' helmet company, producing high-quality and affordable helmets designed specifically for Asian heads, and conditions. We employ the physically disabled among our work force, and all profits flow back into the community.
- Government Lobbying and Collaboration: We have developed close working relationships with Vietnam's Ministry of Transport, National Traffic Safety Committee (NTSC), and other relevant government agencies to develop appropriate helmet standards, including the world's first child motorbike standard, TCVN 6979-2001.
- Conferences and Workshops: These efforts include organizing the landmark Global Road Safety Initiative Helmet Conference in Hanoi in December 2006. The recommendations of this conference were the foundation of Government Resolution 32/CP, Vietnam's new helmet law.
- Helmets for Kids: Our signature helmet donation and road safety program where corporations and other organizations sponsor free Protec helmets and traffic safety education for school children, including crash investigations, monitoring & surveillance, and daily traffic safety instruction, continues to expand. We have donated over 300,000 helmets, and are now moving into Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and even Africa.
- Traffic Safety Education: AIPF has designed road safety curriculums for primary schools and provided lesson materials for students and teachers throughout Vietnam
- Public Awareness Campaigns: These efforts include the current year-long, $1.5M National Helmet Wearing Campaign, utilizing live concerts, nationally broadcast television commercials (credited with inspiring the Prime Minister to accelerate implementation of the new helmet law from mid-2008 to late-2007), billboards in city centers, web pages, celebrity goodwill "ambassadors", and other interactive activities. We are also carrying out a detailed statistical study on the results of the campaign.
This multi-faceted approach to the development of effective road safety initiatives and laws offers many lessons and examples for developing countries throughout world. The cooperation and support we have received from a vast spectrum of nonprofit, profit, government, and NGO organizations has been invaluable to these efforts, especially Atlantic Philanthropies, WHO, FIA Foundation, GRSP/GRSi and the UNRSC; and more recently, the Royal Danish Embassy Hanoi, the US Embassy Hanoi, AusAid, ADB, WB, Intel Vietnam and Michelin SEA. Many, many others have also contributed--too many to acknowledge here, but thank you all. Share with us the joy of knowing that tens of thousands of mainly young people will now survive crashes because of our collective efforts. What better Christmas gift than this?
Even with this momentous accomplishment, however, our work is far from finished. The experience of other countries shows that compliance rates for helmet laws can drop dramatically in ensuing months and years. Drops in 24/7 compliance have already emerged as an issue, with the vast majority of violations occurring in the evenings. Most post-December 15 brain injuries have been among riders who did not wear helmets; wore them incorrectly; or were wearing poor-quality helmets. With this in mind, AIPF's and other organizations' work is more important than ever. It is imperative that we not be lulled into a false sense of security
Although constant and proper motorbike helmet use is important, we must not forget other critical areas in the development of Vietnam's road safety. Anti-drink driving, anti-speeding, and pro-seat belt initiatives, expanded traffic safety education programs, and even efforts for a nationwide bicycle helmet law are all on the horizon.
The recent dramatic success of Vietnam's new motorbike helmet law has been nothing short of miraculous. Because of our collective efforts, traffic safety is one of the most visible issues in the country today. We cannot let this momentous opportunity slip away. With your continued support, we will work for a safer and more prosperous Vietnam and strive to export this model to other motorizing nations in the region.
PS: Please check our latest ads and summary results (pre Dec 15) at the following youtube sites:
English version of teaser
Vietnamese version of teaser
Asia Injury Prevention Foundation
12B Ngoc Khanh Street
Tel: (84-4) 771 0700
Fax: (84-4) 771 0701
Backup email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Website: www.asiainjury.org; www.protechelmets.com.vn
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This page was revised or reformatted on: February 22, 2019.