by Thu Trang
We cannot deny that concerned authorities are always thinking of ways to solve many problems facing the country.
Sometimes, though, we have to wonder whether they are thinking things through before proposing a solution.
The National Traffic Safety Committee late last month suggested that concerned agencies complete documents to introduce a system whereby fines for traffic violations are paid via bank accounts.
This new measure follows several other proposals made earlier, all of them aimed at preventing violations. One of these was to have cameras record breaches of the law, following which the violators would be informed of the fines they would have to pay.
As one proposal after another comes up, it is worth taking a closer look at the problem.
Traffic violations as well as accidents are daily occurrences in Viet Nam. The National Committee for Traffic Safety says that in the first nine months this year, more than 18,600 accidents were recorded.
According to the committee, 50 per cent of drivers do not use indicator lights when changing direction, 85 per cent do not use the horn properly and 90 per cent do not use near and far motorbike headlights correctly.
There is evidence, then, that many violations could stem from wrong driving habits. What are the solutions being proposed to tackle the problem at this level?
Initiatives taken to deal with all traffic-related problems, including bribery and low awareness of regulations should be appreciated. However, considering that many of them have not proved effective in reducing traffic violations and resultant accidents, we need to consider whether a similar fate will befall the latest one.
If the aim of it is to deter violations, will making it easier to pay fines help? It strikes me that if paying fines was a laborious process, drivers would be less likely to repeat their violations.
Defeating the purpose
So the new plan could, instead of adding teeth to the existing punishment regime for traffic violations, blunt its edge.
Decree 34 was issued four years ago, but had not been implemented because several objections were raised. As it nears implementation, it remains controversial.
Mai Quang Thang, a long-distance lorry driver for a private company in the northern province of Cao Bang, said the important thing was not whether or not fines should be paid directly or indirectly.
"No authority seeks to encourage residents to violate regulations and then pay the violation," he said.
Under the new plan, Thang said, owners must open a bank account when registering their vehicles. If they violate traffic rules, they will receive a receipt from the traffic police and the fine will be taken from their bank accounts
"With the new policy, bribery will be allowed tacitly as the violators and police can come to an agreement before making the receipt, and the transport sector's goal of saying no to bribery will be difficult to achieve," he said.
Traffic policemen agree with Thang.
Nguyen Manh Hien, an officer of the Traffic Police Department in Ha Noi, said that the new plan would further complicate the issue, as drivers would find different ways to give bribes. For instance, the rules allow violators to appeal the penalty. Bribes can be given and accepted during this process, according to Hien.
Hien said real change could only come from better education.
Start ‘em young
"When courses in traffic rules and driving habits are held in schools, even kindergartens, the seeds for long-term change are sown," he said.
"If the habit of obeying traffic laws is inculcated from the very first day of school, I'm sure that traffic jams and accidents will be reduced, and traffic police like me will not have to work hard to control the problem, and the Ministry of Transport will not have to waste time supervising both drivers and police," he said.
Expatriates living here also agree that education is key.
James Godber of the UK said traffic accidents were inevitable no matter where you are in the world or how good the safety measures are.
"In England, there are strict rules in place to prevent speeding, reckless driving and drink driving. That's not to say they don't happen, but violators face heavy punishments and even prison time for serious offences.
"They are stopped through the use of technology such as digital speed cameras and breathalyser tests. These are a few and far between in Viet Nam, so the deterrent is a lot less," he said.
Finding practical solutions is not easy. In Viet Nam, motorbikes change hands all the time and there is no way of keeping track of ownership. This makes identifying and punishing traffic violators impossible.
In terms of safety, infrastructure plays a big part. The roads in Viet Nam are unpredictable, especially along the major highways. Trucks and buses fly past and unmarked road works and floods/ mudslides are a constant threat.
"This is less of an issue in England due to better safety measures and more accountability. Children are also taught traffic safety from a young age, be it how to cross the road, ride a bicycle and eventually drive a car," Godber said.
If children in Viet Nam were well educated in traffic etiquette, they could even be a positive influence on adults. Parents would hesitate to break rules if children know them.
Right now, most adults are showing children how to break the law, as far as road traffic is concerned.
Authorities have to do two things in tandem: find practical short and medium-term solutions; and get very serious immediately about the obvious long-term solution. — VNS