by Anh Anh
(VNS) In two months time road users caught committing traffic offences will have to face much harsher penalties as the Government attempts to clamp down on a problem that is rife in Viet Nam.
The level of fines will be more than doubled in what has been seen as an important punitive measure to make more of the public comply with road safety rules. However, can this move engender a remarkable change of mentality in the population, which is notorious for bad traffic safety culture?
Prospective drink drivers, who are going to be affected the most as fines incurred for this offence will be increased by 2.5 times, seem not to be worried. Nguyen Van Dung, a Ha Noi-based construction contractor who consumes alcohol at least twice a week as part of his business meetings and often end up driving his car home drunk, says that the new rule will hardly change his behaviour.
"The thing here is we never plan to be drunk. Many parties happen out of spontaneity. We come in and we got drunk just like that. In the end, even if we have a vague idea that we are not sober enough to drive we have no choice. There is no way we can leave our cars behind, so we just get in and leave our fate to luck."
Dung, speaking on behalf of his drinking buddies, said this kind of behaviour should be analysed from a cultural perspective. Asian countries, and Viet Nam in particular, are still in the early stages of establishing a disciplined society as seen in Western countries, and have a long way to go. People act in accordance with their spontaneous wishes rather than any legal rules. (Worse, they may be even not aware of the relevant laws).
"Even speaking from an economic perspective, if people are rich enough to own a car I do not think a fine, even after an increase, can cause them real problems. But if they were to face criminal charges for drink driving that could be a totally different story," he said.
Another concern is the efficiency of penalty collection. What is the point in raising the level of fines if they are ineffectively enforced?
Ha Noi-based reporter Phan Minh Anh said that the measure may fail to serve as a deterrent to would-be traffic violators if they are confident they can avoid the full punishment.
"If people are stopped by the police due to non-compliant behaviour, the first thing they try to do is negotiate with the police so that in the best scenario they can be let go free, or at worst pay a reduced fine. From our observations many people have succeeded in doing this trick and I suspect that they will continue to try it as long as they are able to," she said.
Nguyen Thanh Tung, a traffic police in the northern city of Hai Phong said that many drivers are crafty in the way that they appear to follow the rules as long as they sense that traffic police are around, but once they know they are free from watch they begin to drive their vehicles in the way that is most convenient for them.
"It is like the burden of maintain the traffic order is weighing down on us only. But you know, there will never be enough police officers to do around-the-clock patrol work while so many drivers continue to flout the law," he said.
Again, it boils down to the lack-of-discipline and go-with-the-flow perception of a majority of traffic participants in Viet Nam. This is disturbing as it not only creates problem for their own generation in terms of the traffic accidents which have cost our economy dearly, but in a more pernicious way, as they also pass on their uncivilised behaviour to future road users.
No matter how many road safety lessons we may teach children from a very early age, the good practices they are taught in schools will hardly become their own habits as long as they are different from what happens in reality. Here is a simple question; how can we expect a child to grow up to always obey the rule of stopping at a red light if they see their own parents cross a red light every time they drive them to school?
To cure this kind of social mentality, the writer of this article believe that setting higher level of penalties is a good move in the right direction (although this measure is hardly radical as it is widely adopted in other corners of the world). But for it to produce a remarkable impact, the most important thing needed here is to maintain a high level of law enforcement and introduce even stiffer punishments if necessary. — VNS