by Hang Nguyen
In an attempt to reduce traffic accidents in the city, Ha Noi police suddenly fined more than 100 pedestrians, starting early this week.
This is the first time pedestrians have been fined en masse. The increase came after statistics from Ha Noi's Police Department showed that the city had 1,700 traffic accidents last year, 150 of which involved pedestrians.
Pedestrians can now receive fines of VND50,000 to 150,000 (US$2 to $7) if they are found walking in the road; ignoring traffic lights, road signs or police instructions; crossing streets without zebra lines; or walking on roads designed only for vehicles.
Rules on fines for pedestrians were issued under Decree No 171/ND-CP, approved in 2013. But before Monday, police hadn't carried out the new regulations. They may have been too busy dealing with car and motorbike violations.
And so, this "sudden" change, which made most violators raise their eyebrows, has sparked a wave of comments around the city, from iced tea stalls to social networking sites. Some have applauded the action, others have not.
Pham Hong Phuong, 27, an IT professional working for a State-run agency in Hoan Kiem District, shared a link for a Vnexpress article about punishing pedestrians on his Facebook yesterday, saying he approved of the new fines.
"They [the police] should have done this sooner," he said. "It's a little bit late, but better late than never."
Phuong, who drives a four-seat Japanese car to the office every morning, said pedestrians acted unruly when crossing the street, which was one of the reasons for all the chaotic traffic.
Pedestrians should be taught to follow traffic rules, just like those in vehicles, he said.
"It's high time pedestrians seriously started obeying traffic rules," said Do Thanh, 35, of Hai Ba Trung District. "I've seen pedestrians ignoring all the road signs. They walk whichever way they want, and if traffic accidents happen between them and vehicle drivers, they blame the drivers."
Vu Thu Huong, the owner of a clothing shop on Bach Mai Street, said she agreed with the move.
In other countries – especially developed ones – traffic flowed smoothly because pedestrians obeyed traffic rules, she said.
If the police succeeded, Ha Noi would become more "civilised" in the eyes of tourists, she added.
Nonetheless, a lot of people said the move was unreasonable, because so many pavements were filled with parked cars and street food stalls. Pedestrians often had no choice but to walk in the road. They doubted the feasibility of the crackdown.
"Does it really help cut down the number of traffic collisions in our city?" said Nguyen Thi Bao Ngoc, 26, who lives on Hang Bac Street in the Old Quarter. She added that she usually walked on the road because there was no space left on pavements in the Old Quarter.
An expat shared his thoughts on a Facebook group: "The fine is only $2-$7? Is it a joke? Fines should be higher so people will get afraid of doing a violation! The minimum should be VND1 million ($45) for a start!"
Lawyer Tran Van Luat of INTERLA Law Office told Infonet that he believed the police's new push for order could be successful.
Luat said the movement aimed to ensure the safety of pedestrians in particular, and other road users in general. The fines were suitable, considering the incomes of the majority of those involved. And the move fit in well with current traffic laws.
A representative from the Ha Noi Traffic Police said that at first the police would not punish violators on streets with blocked pavements. The fines would start after the city's Department of Transport and the traffic police brought the pavement situation under control, he said.
While it is still a controversial topic around town, I personally think the move should be applauded, even though we don't know if it's feasible without testing it out first. Let's wait and see if traffic in the city gets better or worse. — VNS