Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers to share their thoughts about a new ban on sleeper buses travelling on steep and winding routes in Viet Nam. The ban seemed to spark controversy among our readers. Here are some responses:
Tran Van Khoa, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
I think the Ministry of Transport should do something more practical and reasonable for both transport enterprises and sleeper bus passengers. Many accidents happened not because of the sleeper bus, but due to the poor skills of the driver and poor quality of the road.
Sleeper buses are modern and comfortable. A foreign friend once told me that travelling by coach was really a nightmare, as it often ran at high speed and the driver frequently used the brake suddenly.
It is also upsetting to travel by train because the train rarely arrives on time. If a train ticket shows the arrival time as 09:00, you might arrive at 09:30 and hear the familiar voice "We are sorry to announce the late arrival of the train."
Lemy Benko Attila, Hungarian, Nha Trang
The problem is not the bus: the newer Daewoo and Kia models are safe enough. The problem is the terrible amount of unqualified drivers on the roads. Their companies should pay them better and use online cameras to check what they do on the roads. Even bigger bus companies are lacking responsible drivers.
Companies should let passengers comment on their drivers' performance. A very big problem is that most drivers do not use the engine brake function rolling down from the mountains. They just step on the brake and the gear is in neutral (zero position). It's a nightmare!
The other thing is that they force high speed, especially at night, and try to execute dangerous passing maneuvers. Passing must be limited to big buses. Police or local authorities should check it.
Robert Fries, Texas, USA
Years ago, my wife and I were heading north from HCM City by bus and while we were going up Hai Van Pass, the loaded bus slowed to a crawl and it gave me photo opportunities of the magnificent scenery.
As we started to gain speed going downhill, the front end of the bus started to shake violently and the driver slowed to a crawl, then let it go faster with the same result.
I knew something was very wrong at the front end of the bus and hoped we would all survive the descent. We made it to the bottom, where the bus pulled into a station for repairs.
Only buses deemed of safe design should be allowed on steep mountain passes. If sleeper buses, with their high centre of gravity, are deemed poorly designed for mountain travel, then it is a "no-brainer" to ban them.
In my humble opinion, I suggest regular maintenance and inspections for buses. Actually, this would not be a bad idea for all vehicles. Ideally, all drivers should be trained and be competent drivers who can take appropriate action in emergencies. And well rested drivers at that. Perhaps they should have logbooks to show they have had enough rest.
Chantal Wentler and Joscha Roosen-Runge, German, tourists
We are two German travellers and we have travelled by sleeper bus in Laos and in Viet Nam. Compared to Laos, the sleeper buses in Viet Nam are more comfortable and safer.
Even on steep and winding roads, we never felt exposed to any danger. In our opinion, a new ban would affect the options for travelling negatively because it would not be so easy to travel overnight.
Also, the prices are one reason why so many tourists use the overnight bus and the price is a persuasive argument for us. We were quite shocked when we heard about the accident but it did not stop us from taking overnight buses.
We do not compare the standards to our German security regulations on buses, but it is obvious that standards can help make the trips safer and would give us a pleased feeling.
Viet Nam is such a beautiful country, many tourists come every year, and Viet Nam could avoid terrible accidents by imposing safety standards.
Knut R. Schoemburg, German, HCM City
Unqualified driver, driving too fast downhill both day and night, high speed passing downhill, high gear driving downhill (with no engine brake), no sense of responsibility or feeling for their passengers and other people on the road: I recognise it weekly on my trips from Sai Gon to Bao Loc and Da Lat. Often my driver is forced to use the emergency brake; often, a bus driver comes downhill towards us after wrongly overtaking others.
I have business experience in Germany as founder and owner of a company for the rental of coaches and upscale high-end limousines with chauffeurs. All my drivers were examined repeatedly. In addition, there are annual tests from government authorities and physicians.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
Any accidental death is of course a tragedy. Any predictable and routine death is absurd. Too often trucks are overloaded, ferries have dozens of extra passengers and buses fall into remote ravines. In the West, corporate greed is a factor. In Asia, death comes cheap. Seat-belt use is not mandatory. Helmets are for fashion. It saddens me that many people died needlessly. The only good thing that can be said is the end moment came when many people were asleep. Hopefully they died painlessly.
I travelled by train in Thailand and kept an article about a train derailment. Cause? Speeding and poor maintenance. I kept an article about hundreds overloaded (without life jackets) on a ferry in the Philippines. My bus in Thailand made it through mountains towards Burma for a visa run, but motorbikes were constantly buzzing by and cutting in front. Philippines buses swerved and forced me off the road when I rented a motorbike there.
Solutions include separated highways, strict enforcement of speed limits and maintenance checks. Install GPS machines or recording devices for driver habits and forced time off for sleep and rest. That is in a perfect world.
In Asia, I have travelled with little kids sitting on parents' laps, broken air con, broken windows, broken doors, and a fighting cock (rooster) in a cardboard box. You roll the dice, you take your chances, you pay a bribe and you hope to arrive alive. Or you can stay at home. — VNS