by Ngo Thu Phuong
It is not uncommon in Viet Nam to see many households or whole villages in mourning because of a road accident that has wiped out several people.
Just last Friday, heart-breaking sobs broke out among 25 families in Hoa Phuoc Commune in Hoa Vang District, central Da Nang City after a bus carrying primary teachers on vacation crashed into a cliff, killing seven and injuring 21.
Within 48 hours, dozens of families in neighbouring central Quang Nam and southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces were recoiling after two more accidents claimed at least nine lives and injured another 30.
On the same day, Japanese archaeologist Nishimura Masanari, who had spent 20 years living and working in Viet Nam, died when his motorbike collided with a truck on his way from Ha Noi to an archaeological site in northern Bac Ninh Province.
The roads are Viet Nam's silent killers. No one is left untouched. Each year, the nation mourns about 10,000 people killed on the road. It also has to care for tens of thousands handicapped or brain-damaged by traffic accidents.
The figures are scary, rivalling the tens of thousands killed in recent wars. According to the National Committee for Traffic Safety, accidents cost the nation US$2 billion in 2012 alone.
Then there is the loss of manpower. A big percentage of victims are of working age. And there are countless children who are growing up without one or two parents.
Efforts to overcome the tragic situation have amounted to little. Every month, meetings involving Government leaders, provincial authorities and responsible bodies are held to pinpoint the causes and find solutions. This indicates a strong will to root out the problem.
But strong will is not enough. The causes must be dealt with properly and seriously. Poor quality roads are sometimes blamed. For example, only on Monday, Deputy Chairman of the National Committee for Traffic Safety Nguyen Hoang Hiep said that road expansion and median strips on National Highway 1 could not be completed until 2016. He said drivers had no choice but to accept the situation.
In many cases where speed, drink driving, overloading and tiredness are mainly to blame for accidents, drivers' ethics and behaviours are questioned. One appeal was made for the media to teach drivers about road ethics. It was also suggested to cancel the licences of driver causing deadly accidents. However, so far it is only talk.
Even when the fines are pushed higher and drivers sent to jail, it seems to have a little impact. Similar mistakes are repeated by others.
In another attempt to bring down the mortality rate, the Government has ordered that provincial and city authorities must name and shame those in charge if the localities record a high number of accidents. But can a reprimand be powerful enough to deter people?
In a country where the rate of road accidents ranks among the highest in the world, no one can imagine an official standing up to eat humble pie. More often, the buck is simply passed from one official to another.
It's high time that more specific mechanisms are put in place. If the roads are poorly signed or need repairing, fix them and castigate or sack the officials who fail to take action.
If the drivers are at fault, cancel their licences for a period - and fine or jail them if necessary. If people plead ignorance about road laws, do the same - and start teaching road laws in schools.
If the accidents are being caused by children on motorised bicycles, clamp down. Let's get serious!
The public no longer has faith in hollow promises. Smart, forceful action is needed to get the bodies off the roads by re-organising the national traffic system. — VNS