Safety is Hardly a Priority In Saigon
Journal entry on February 6, 2017:
“I noticed today that if there are kids on a motorbike the parents will be wearing a helmet but not the kids. I thought that was kind of weird...”
When I was growing up, my parents made me wear a helmet for any dangerous or somewhat risky activity I partook in. I grew up in a quiet suburb where we rarely had cars drive by and I was only riding my bike, but head injuries were not worth risking. When I was 12, my grandparents bought me a Razor dirt bike that went about 16 mph on a full charge — if I was caught on it without a helmet I was sure to lose it. I can’t say I loved wearing a helmet but I understood that safety was important and I should protect myself from any possibility of a head injury.
Noticing parents driving in rush hour traffic through the streets of Saigon with 3 sometimes 4 people on a motorbike and little ones not wearing helmets seemed a bit questionable to me as a westerner. This was the case for the vast majority of children but I did occasionally see a child wearing a helmet which made a part of me very happy. At first, I wondered, why these parents were protecting themselves but not their children?
After a bit of research, I found this:
Children aged less than 14 years cannot be given sanctions, including penalties for not wearing a helmet. Children aged 14 to 16 years or less can be given a warning, and financial penalties apply for children aged 16–18 years but at half the rates for adults. Importantly, current legislation does not provide for a road traffic infringement penalty against the adult responsible for the child, a measure that can be applied in countries such as Australia, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Due to these limitations, the use of a helmet in children is not enforced.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading…
There are two key problems here,
- The government doesn’t punish parents for not putting a helmet on their kids.
- Parents are only wearing a helmet because they’re required to by law and therefore it has nothing to do with safety or preventing head injuries. They just don’t want a ticket.
I did my best not to make judgments in Vietnam, I simply observed as much as I could and tried to understand what I was seeing.
At first look, the roads appear chaotic and destined for accidents to happen every few minutes — but they rarely did. When I first got to Saigon, I would go to a cafe at the corner of a busy intersection (with no lights) and just sit and wait. I figured that there would surely be an accident within 15 minutes — but I never saw a single one. I saw one or two accidents total in the 3 months I spent in Vietnam and they were nothing serious. What appeared to be madness to me was more or less just organized chaos.
At first, riding on the back of a motorbike with a ‘taxi driver’ was one of the scariest things I’d ever done in my life. I would hop on the back of a motorbike, put on a helmet, then the driver would zip through traffic as fast as possible. They would beep at anyone in the way, and drive on the sidewalks if traffic on the road wasn’t moving fast enough— but always drop me safely at my destination. After a few weeks, I was more than comfortable on the back of a bike and had complete confidence in the transportation system. What appeared to be a life-threatening activity is simply a way of life for the Vietnamese.
Regardless of how safe or unsafe the roads are, I still feel that everyone should be wearing a helmet. There’s no knowing what could happen and it’s simply not worth the risk, especially for children.