by Thu Huong Le
Nine people killed in a head-on collision between a truck and a minibus last Saturday in Thanh Hoa Province were relatives on their way to Quang Ninh for a wedding. Parents of the bride-to-be were both killed. A happy occasion turned tragic. No words could describe the pain.
While the heartbreaking accident spread gloom for days, it will eventually be overcome by even later tragedies on Viet Nam's roads. The fatalities will also be added to the monthly and annual tallies of roads deaths. Traffic accidents are so common in Viet Nam today that many people feel they are part of destiny because, for better or worse, nearly every citizen takes to the road in one way or another.
Despite strenuous efforts to curb traffic accidents, more than 780 people lost their lives in a one-month period from mid-December 2014 to mid-January this year, an astonishing figure for a country at peace.
Vietnamese officials and Government departments talk much about curbing traffic accidents, but their words and promises aren't enough. Following serious accidents, such as the one in Thanh Hoa, officials identify the cause and actions that can be done to prevent future disasters. But after a while, the talk seems to fade into thin air and we never seem to find out if the problem – or problems – have been identified and fixed.
In the Thanh Hoa crash, the truck involved‘s registration had expired on January 1 this year. A report by the Viet Nam Registration Agency said the vehicle was made in Germany in 1989.
The crash raises alarms about inadequate law enforcement when it comes to dealing with vehicles that should not be on the road. According to the agency, at the end of 2014, there were more than 120,000 cars with expired registrations, 40,000 of which were used to carry passengers.
In 2015, the registration agency estimated that nearly 16,500 cars would also run out of their legal life cycle.The law stipulates that vehicles used for transporting goods cannot be used more than 25 years after being made. The time limit for buses is just 20 years.
At the end of a vehicle's legal life, car owners are supposed to go to their local registration offices so that paperwork can be revoked and the car destroyed.
In fact, according to Khuat Viet Hung, deputy chairman of the National Traffic Safety, in October last year, the Viet Nam Registration Agency sent a list of cars that will expire in 2015 to the Department of Traffic Police, which is in charge of punishing violators.
However, in a recent interview on national television, Hung admitted that inadequate law enforcement, especially at the local level, was among the reasons why such a large number of expired vehicles were still on the road.
Officials rely on a car owner's goodwill to turn their cars in. But, for example, in Nghe An Province, the bureau of traffic police sent notifications to 500 car owners in the province whose cars had run out of time, but none showed up.
Obviously, these owners don't want their cars destroyed and they don't want to buy new ones. The fines for breaking the law are only VND4-6 million (US$187 - $280), according to a decree issued in 2013.
Of more concern, to avoid being caught, many car owners avoid regular check-ups or sell their expired cars to those who can use them in mountainous and rural areas where inspections tend to be less common. Many cars also go out of their way to avoid inspections and check-ups as the Lunar New Year approaches.
The expired cars pose hidden deaths to everyone. Even when accidents happen, few repercussions are reported in court.
At a meeting on Monday following the Thanh Hoa crash, Transport Minister Dinh La Thang said there was a need to prosecute car owners if their expired vehicles were involved in accidents. "We have not done enough to punish car owners of vehicles that have expired," he was quoted as saying.
Perhaps there is a need to set up a public database that can be accessed by everyone, not just officials, so that the registration and use-by date of all vehicles can be checked.
Transport companies or businesses that commit violations must be identified and denounced. Increased inspections are needed, especially in mountainous and rural areas. Besides revoking plates of expired vehicles, authorities must monitor the process to destroy the cars.
After a tragic accident in Sa Pa town in September, when a overnight bus plunged into a 200-metre ravine and killed 12 people, the Transport Minister banned sleeper coaches travelling on narrow mountainous roads. It was a much needed action, better late than never. — VNS