You only have one head

July 12, 2020 - 08:13

Parents and schools need to come together to make sure our kids are safe

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà


Illustration by Trịnh Lập

As we rode our motorbike up the Nguyễn Chí Thanh overpass to school one morning, my little passenger pointed to the bike next to us and said, “Mum, if parents love their children, why do they wear helmets but their kids don’t?”

It was an observation I’d made many times myself.

At the beginning of the school year last autumn there was an accident that shocked many of us parents. A 10th-grader at a gifted high school in Hanoi was riding his electric bicycle and hit a truck while trying to overtake it. He was seriously injured. His blood-stained school ID card soon appeared online, and it was heart-breaking to look at his bright young face. It must have been devastating for his parents.

He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

He survived, but accidents like these are the stuff of nightmares for parents. And yet parents can do so much more to make sure kids’ heads are protected.

You don’t need a law to understand that the only logical way to ride a bicycle or motorbike through chaotic traffic where rules mean so little is to do so while wearing a helmet. All of your body is important, of course, but your head really is in a class of its own.

Helmets were first made compulsory in 2001, when the then Deputy Prime Minister issued an Official Letter to that effect. The nominated day, May 15, came and went, and while some people wore helmets they were in the minority. It was only in late 2004 that every adult on every motorbike around the country starting wearing a helmet.

The letter also directed government agencies to raise awareness among the community about the importance of wearing helmets to protect against serious head injuries.

If you were to ride today without one and came across a police officer, a fine of VNĐ200,000 - 300,000 would ensue.

Many say they don’t like wearing a helmet because of the heat, or because they’re only going a short distance on slow streets, or because they just don’t want to.

It’s quite common for high school students who “wear” a helmet to just put it on their head, with the strap dangling uselessly underneath. The traffic police are none the wiser. But while putting one over on the police might give them a little self-confidence or a bit of rush, it’s their own safety they’re putting at risk.

Other high school students ride an electric bike or a 50cc motorbike, which means they legally don’t need to wear a helmet.

By law, only people who are 18 years of age can obtain a driving license. But the parents of many students of 16, 17 or 18 let them ride these smaller bikes, where not even licences are required.

Excuse me?

Your children are still children, but you’re letting them out among the hordes of bikes, cars, buses, trucks and who knows what else? Among drivers experienced in doing the unimaginable? Does that make sense on any level?

Many laws have loopholes and taking advantage of them normally has little in the way of serious consequences. But why take advantage of a loophole in a law that sensibly tells people to wear a helmet when they’re on a motorbike?

The teenage years lay the foundations for the future adult, so being allowed to get around a law of such importance is not a lesson they should be learning.

My point is simple: if you want to ride a motorbike, learn the road rules and pass the driving test. It’s not rocket science.

Some of the other parents at my kid’s school have been talking about inviting a traffic police officer to talk to the students about road safety. I personally think this should be a top priority at each and every school around the country.

But, some say, kids don’t and won’t listen, and on their way home after such a talk they wouldn’t change much if anything about what they do on the road. Accidents will still happen, they say, and there’s not much we can do about it.

Wrong. If we made road safety part of school orientation every year, the kids would gradually get it.

As a parent, I want them all to know how precious their well-being is, to their parents especially but also to everyone they know.

Parents and schools need to come together to make sure our kids are safe, and then and only then can they worry about academics.

So, quite simply, protect yourself and everyone who is riding with you, by making sure helmets are on heads and straps are secure. VNS