by Trung Hieu - Trong Sy
No technical standards, no driver's licence, no number plates or related papers, no need to buy insurance and speeds of up to 50km per hour. That's why electric bikes have become so popular among grade school students who love to weave in and out of traffic on the capital's streets.
This sudden influx of small, nippy bikes around the city has change the dynamic of driving here - just when you thought it couldn't get any worse.
Several fatal accidents have occurred involving electric bikes. On August 19 at the crosssroads of Le Van Luong and Hoang Minh Giam, a collision between an electric bike and a car resulted in the death of a female high school student. Several witnesses said that she hadn't been wearing a helmet.
Everyday during rush hour, hundreds of students travel to school on electric bikes, and most do not wear helmets. Many of them cut across traffic, seemingly oblivious to the dangers behind them, and some even perform wheelies as they drive along in groups.
Many streets that previously specialised in selling motorcycles such as Ba Trieu, Nguyen Luong Bang, Ton Duc Thang and Pho Hue now stock electric bicycles.
Some shop owners said that sales had shot up from 30 to 50 per cent compared with previous years.
A variety of brands are on offer, Yamaha, Honda, Bridgestone, Geoby, PSY and Zamha, priced from VND7-12 million (US$350-600).
"Because their prices only range from VND7 to 9 million, bikes imported from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan sell well," says Nguyen Linh, a shop owner on Pho Hue Street.
"Buyers are mainly parents who want to find a convenient way for their children to commute to school. They simply choose the bike, pay us and leave. There's no need to fill out all the paper work that you would with a motorbike."
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Ha says her family lives in Hoang Mai District but her son goes to school in Cau Giay District.
"With no buses from our house to the school, we decided to buy him an electric bike worth VND12 million. We think that the cost is reasonable," she says.
Her son also seems very happy with his new bike.
"The bike is small and convenient, and I don't need a driving license. For students like me who live a long way from school, it's great," he says.
This situation is common across many big cities where parents no longer have time to take their children to school.
According to the Ha Noi Traffic Police Department, some electric bikes can reach speeds of up to 50km per hour.
"Many riders often ignore traffic laws and do not wear helmets. They run red lights and travel alongside each other," says Nguyen Trong Hung, a traffic police officer.
According to the Ha Noi Transportation Association, State management agencies cannot control the quality of electric bikes being imported into Viet Nam.
In terms of technical standards, the brakes and wheels on electric bicycles are smaller than conventional motorbikes, so they should be limited to a maximum speed of 25km per hour.
It would be extremely dangerous if they were allowed to travel any faster.
There are no official statistics on the number of electric bicycles and scooters in circulation in Viet Nam, but everyone can see that more and more of these vehicles are appearing in big cities.
This phenomenon is causing concerns among citizens, especially around the times when schools finish for the day. Sometimes even pedestrians have to take evasive action to avoid them as they make their way through the crowds.
Nguyen Xuan Thuy, an expert on urban traffic management, says the police are busy trying to unravel the gridlock during rush hour, so they don't have enough time to stop electric bicycle users who violate traffic laws.
"If we are unable to cope with the situation, it will lead to anarchy, and I don't know how we will dispose of used batteries in the future," he says.
Thuy says that electric bikes should have registration plates.
"If the State issues registration plates, it will help people to look after their property and prevent theft. Authorities will also find it easier to monitor the situation," he says.
In an effort to solve the problem, authorities have decided to tighten the management of these bikes.
On November 1, the Ministry of Public Security started to work with the ministries of Transport, Industry and Trade, Education and Training, and Information and Communications to launch a campaign to manage the production, import, trade and use of electric bicycles and scooters.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of traffic laws and quality control, and reduce the risks of traffic accidents caused by electric bicycles and scooters.
Vice Chairman of the National Road Safety Committee Nguyen Hoang Hiep says the campaign will focus on high school students and the production, import and sale of these vehicles.
"Authorities will handle violations related to the manufacturing, importing and trading of these vehicles, and any criminal activities will be prosecuted. Those who break traffic safety laws by not wearing a helmet, dangerous driving or speeding will also be severely dealt with. The campaign will run until the end of 2013 and we will not rest until the job is done." — VNS