by Le Quynh Anh
Motorbike is the king of the road here in Viet Nam. Many foreigners visiting for the first time are overwhelmed by the sheer number of motorbikes. One expat referred to the traffic situation as "motorbike madness" and claimed the swarming vehicles rivaled the insects on any beehive.
While the number of cars has been increasing rapidly in Viet Nam due to the growing middle class, experts say the motorbike will continue to be the dominant mode of transport for the foreseeable future. A 2011 study by the Ministry of Transport estimated that by 2020, Viet Nam would have between 38.8 and 40.5 million motorbikes - one for every 2.5 people.
Given the importance of the motorbike in Vietnamese people's daily lives, it comes as no surprise that any policy concerning motorbikes will come under heavy public scrutiny. The latest proposed decree by the transport ministry, which seeks to fine those who drive motorbikes without legitimate proof of ownership, is no exception.
Under the proposal, which if approved by the Government will come into effect in July, this type of violation will incur a fine up to VND200,000 (about $10). Worth noting here is the fact that the decree that the proposed law will replace came into effect just five months ago!
Apparently, the ministry has listened to the public, as it has lowered the fine from the initial ridiculously high level of up to VND1.2 million($60). However, officials are still ignoring the root cause of the public outcry.
Conceptually speaking, the ministry's policy is not wrong. Actually, this practice generally assures better management and has proven its worth in many other countries. But now is definitely not the right time, as the current registration system in Viet Nam is far from ready.
What makes this policy so mind-blowingly difficult to implement is that Vietnamese in general never take the ownership of the vehicles they drive very seriously. Ironically, this is in part due to the loose management of relevant agencies. So it just does not make sense to suddenly adopt strict ownership requirements and expect everything to immediately work out.
"We need a transition phase before actually enforcing this, because the number of motorbikes is too high and the administrative procedures for ownership clarification are still cumbersome," said Dinh Thi Thanh Binh, director of the Institute of Transport Planning and Management.
Nguyen Manh Hung, chairman of the Viet Nam Automobile Transport Association, agreed that now was just too soon.
"Only when relevant agencies remove all the current impediments that face drivers when they apply for a transfer of vehicle ownership - particularly reducing the registration fees and simplifying the procedures – should we start talking about punishing this type of violation," he said.
From a social perspective, Binh said this policy was not sound because the practice of sharing motorbikes among family members or friends is quite popular in Viet Nam. The new rule would mean a lot of drivers would be regularly violating the law, unless there was a mechanism in place to allow them to prove that they had borrowed the vehicle from family members or friends by bringing along marriage certificates or residence registration books.
"If this is not handled well, it will create unnecessary burdens for a lot of people," she said.
Luu Song Nam, a researcher for a Ha Noi-based institute who is currently driving a motorbike that he bought from another person, said that he had applied for a transfer of ownership once, but gave up along the way because the procedure was time-consuming and frustrating.
"The bottom line here is we just can't drive our vehicles all the time. The new rule simply does not address that important fact," Nam said.
But he pointed out that at least he knew about his vehicle's previous owner: "Many other people may not be that lucky. Tracking down the previous owners is not easy, and in some cases it's impossible. For example, the previous owner may already be dead. The rule is invalid in that case. I can't stop myself from thinking that this policy was created merely to collect revenue for the Government, rather than increase road safety."
Meanwhile, local newspapers continue to receive many comments from readers pointing out this policy's many errors.
Given all the reaction - and the way policies are usually formulated in Viet Nam - it would not come as a surprise to anyone if the ministry ends up revising this policy again! — VNS