by Khanh Linh
In a country where motorbikes are the main means of transport, public or private, helmets are a must for riders and passengers. Those who don't obey this law deserve strict punishment.
However, in the near future, even riders wearing helmets face fines of up to VND200, 000 (US$10) if their helmets are found to be substandard or with fake certification.
The proposal to introduce fines has been drafted by the ministries of Science and Technology, Industry and Trade, Transport, and Public Security. The move is considered necessary in the struggle to curb unsafe helmets and helmet-shaped "hats" available on the market. The hats are generally made from plastic as flimsy as eggshells and are sold at half the price of standard ones.
The move is sought to try and cut back on the 12,000 road deaths in Viet Nam each year. A Ministry of Industry and Trade conference in January revealed that up to 80 per cent of brain injuries in traffic accidents were received by people wearing substandard helmets.
The new law would also help genuine helmet manufacturers who have been hit hard by competition from the deadly fakes. However, punishment needs careful consideration from authorised agencies.
Nguyen Ngoc Minh, a resident in Ha Noi's Tan Ap Street, said she chose fake helmets because they were light, cheap and, she claims, accepted by traffic police. "I know it does nothing about protecting my head, but these helmets are sold everywhere and many people wear then, so no big deal," she said.
Minh said she could not distinguish between the legal and illegal hats claiming to be certified. "I can't distinguish between good and bad helmets, so I buy one that's cheaper," Minh said.
Minh's thoughts are similar to other motorcyclists wearing fake products. Choosing something cheap, usable and available has become the trend. Luong Van Phan, deputy head of the Viet Nam Standard and Quality Institute, told Doi song&Phap luat (Life and Law) newspaper that the clearest way of distinguishing the standard and uncertified helmets was the CR (conformity of regulation) safety stamps stuck on each hat. However, Phan said, high-technology was used to print copies of the stamps that customers could not tell apart from the real thing.
Nguyen Hung, director of Duc Huy Enterprise which produces certified helmets, said a helmet was granted a CR safety stamp only when it met 10 different criteria as required. "It is a long process to get a product sample tested, but the stamps are easy to be fake. I myself can't tell the difference between them," Hung said, adding that about 80 per cent of helmets sold in the market were counterfeit. He said all of his products had stamps certifying their safety.
Obviously, it's not easy to know the quality of helmets on sale. Authorities in central Da Nang City have ordered scientists to produce a machine to test helmet quality right on the road. But is it feasible to set up these machines on many roads?
The regulation could also cause difficulties for traffic police. "We're not experts at detecting fake products. We can only stop those who wear the thin helmet-shaped hats. We're not sure about fake helmets and fake stamps," a member of the Ha Noi Police Department's Unit 4 said.
Because there seems to be a shortage of police to carry out the tests, some say traffic police and market-watch officers should get together to solve the problem. However, market-watch teams are already restricted in numbers and if they were mobilised to in the crackdown on unsafe helmets, they would have little time for their main mission: cracking down on all fake products.
It's true that public support should be involved in eliminating unsafe helmets, but instead of burdening people with fines, authorities should find a more comprehensive and feasible method.
I believe, the fight should be against producers of fake helmets, including tough moves such as strictly punishing and revoking business licences of fraud helmet producers and listing certified enterprises to help customers buy good products.
Catching some of the producers of phoney helmets might be difficult though, because many are probably illegal imports and other manufacturers are capable of disappearing overnight.
Perhaps the best tactic would be to introduce special penalties for the sellers of dangerous helmets. These merchants of injury and death have their stalls set up everywhere. Their helmets should be thrown on the back of police trucks, taken away and publicly burnt! — VNS