The Cost of Traffic Accidents in Vietnam

Natural disasters happen everywhere unpredictably; there is not much that we can do about it yet. However, deaths caused by preventable accidents are among the most disheartening to me. In Vietnam, preventable accidents are the cause of more than 10,000 deaths every … Continued


Natural disasters happen everywhere unpredictably; there is not much that we can do about it yet. However, deaths caused by preventable accidents are among the most disheartening to me. In Vietnam, preventable accidents are the cause of more than 10,000 deaths every year. This number is unnecessarily high and has caused more than just pain and grieves for the ones who are involved and their families. Every year, Vietnam loses 10,000 productive members of society who could be among the brightest of the nation and who could bring improvements to Vietnam.   (For more information on different methods of going around Vietnam, read VTP’s article on  Transportation Methods in Vietnam)
Picture from http://picasaweb.google.com/philnanp/Vietnam1BangkokSaigonMekongToDalat#

To improve this situation, there are lots of steps to be taken. However, the first step must be understanding the problem. This suggests that the more data we have, the better we can analyze and improve the situation. Let’s take a look at some of the available statistics done by the professors at the University of Transportation and Communication in Vietnam:

The statistics only show some preliminary looks at Vietnam and its infrastructure problem. This could be a great opportunity for some consulting firm to construct data and for investors to invest in Vietnam’s infrastructure since a lot of other businesses are looking for expansion in Vietnam at the moment.


  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=622836385 Peter Cornish

    Would just like to draw attention to the 'Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIP Foundation)' who work tirelessly to raise public awareness of road safety issues here. http://www.asiainjury.org/main/home.html

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=685124542 Phuong Vu

    HELMETS alone could save 42% deaths and 69% severe injuries. AIPF"M? B?o Hi?m, Món Quà Quí Giá Nh?t Cho Ng??i Thân C?a B?n!"

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=718138073 Tuyet Le-Brown

    @ Phuong Vu: only if the helmets are worn correctly, AND that they are of good quality!

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=685124542 Phuong Vu

    Yes of course other factors are also included in the equation. Increasing public awareness is so important. People just don't know how dangerous it is not to wear helmets. Similarly, when watching "Indonesian baby on 40 cigarettes a day" on YouTube I'm like… WTF? It's just very sad.

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=718138073 Tuyet Le-Brown

    helmet law here (along with others similar ones) appears to be more punitive, less protective, unfortunately!

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=11708676 Trung Nguyen

    When I went back to Vietnam in 2003, our taxi was hit by a truck, wasn't too hard but part of the bumper fell off. Can't tell whose fault it is, but all the driver did was, went outside, grabbed the fallen part, cussed, and drove on. hahaha

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=531019554 Cindy Nguyen

    i get freaked out everytime I go back there because of the crazy traffic and drivers…

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=617736644 David Regenold

    We saw four accidents in four weeks. That's not really statistically different than what I observe around phoenix AZ I suppose. I think I told this story here once (I repeat myself often….age): As we were going up the mountainside toward Da Lat from Nha Trang, we were sideswiped (or vice versa) by a delivery truck coming down. The cause, in my opinion, was that the road was simply too narrow. The two drivers got out and engaged in a heated shouting match. At some point, my wife nudged me and suggested that I should get out of the bus and speak to them in an effort to calm things down. Being skilled in the art of negotiation and the Vietnamese language (Not, on both counts), I declined. Eventually, they made peace and went their separate ways. Fortunately, the only injuries were to the vehicles themselves.

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=622836385 Peter Cornish

    These figures are sadly out of date – closer to 13,000 lives lost a year through careless driving and recent reports are suggesting an average of 50 deaths a day. WHO figures suggest an annual cost to the economy in the region of $885 million. That's a lot of dead people and a lot of wasted money. Let's not kid ourselves – these deaths have little to do with the country's infrastructure…

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=1358163205 Howard Blum

    I was told by an ex-pat friend of mine that lives there that if there is a vehicular accident the larger vehicle is at fault in Vietnam without regard to the circumstances surrounding the accident. When you think of it, it is such a simplified system. Be careful not to hit a smaller vehicle (or pedestrian).

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=622836385 Peter Cornish

    Some of the stories you hear at frightful – like the lorry drivers that hit people and then reverse over them to make sure they are dead because the one-off payment of killing someone costs less than to pay compensation for the rest of their lives. Accident blame tends to come from he who hits – so if I drive through a red traffic light wrong way up a one-way street and you hit me, then it's your fault.

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=1210726 Neil Nguyen Huu

    wow Peter, you sure know lots about traffic in Vietnam. Do you think an increase in shared public transportation will alleviate the problem?

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=622836385 Peter Cornish

    I drive in HCM city every day. Driving my bike here is one of my biggest stresses, it's also one of my biggest enjoyments. I would like to think improvements in public transport would help the problem but I doubt it would. Locals here joke that they don't like to walk more than 20m – which is about the distance from where they have left their bike. If you look at the chart on the link above, the main causes for accidents are speeding, irregular passing, problems with observation and drunk driving. These are social problems that are more to do with public awareness of road safety than infrastructure. Let's face it – in a society that has no respect for a red traffic light and only wears crash helmets because they might get fined if they don't, the main issue is one of attitude.

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000473809771 David Brown

    the top story on VNNet Bridge today: english.vietnamnet.vn/reports/201006/Dodgy-helmets-flood-market-and-fill-hospital-beds-918382/It's good reading. I know because I edited it.

  • http://facebook.com/profile.php?id=685124542 Phuong Vu

    Thanks David. I'm beginning to understand… the root of many problems is one's own responsibility.

  • Stephen

    Sheer unadulterated chaos, and even more so in foreign eyes. The unfamiliar stand petrified, not knowing how to walk across the street. Like the musical notes in a Beethoven score, to the eye it’s incomprehensible, to the ears it’s awe, and in the end thought provoking. It’s as much a part of the Vietnam scene as non-la’s and banh mi.

    The Graphic here notes the steep rise of accidents (injuries and even fatalities) ought to have included a line showing the number of motorized vehicles on on the road. Accidents may be up seven fold, but this is certainly no less dramatic than the sheer number of vehicles itself – as vividly portrayed in the picture. This is an all too common sight in places like Saigon & Hanoi, particularly at the 4pm school bell when parents swell school house exits to ferry kids home. It’s the opening act for the 5pm rush hour. The people of VN love and depend on motorbikes, as do I.

    The traffic problem ties to (1) speed (2) increasing number of vehicles, (3) traffic culture, and (4) road hazards

    Let’s take them in reverse. Perhaps you have seen that tree branch or rickety chair in the middle of a road. It’s a makeshift warning sign of something you need to slow down and avoid. Vietnam’s roads, even the best of them, offer their own deadly hazards. Potholes and dips that can easily upend an unsuspecting motorbike. Booming construction means widespread gravel & sand spills, more cartage means fallen objects (even helmets), crowds & vendors routinely spilling over into streets. This is VN, expect the unexpected. One road hazard in just the right place, or wrong, oft leads to it’s own disastrous domino effects.

    Traffic culture. Puddle avoidance is one that gets me, motos will seemingly risk life & limb to avoid a puddle. True, it’s quite impolite to splash your neighbors, not to mention spritz those behind you with foul roadwash. It’s also true, that where there’s a puddle there’s a depression-exactly how deep in anyones guess. Rains dramatically re sculpt and undermine the best of roads. Driver’s also steadfastly avoid steel (manhole) covers, no matter how safe it may appear. Anyone who’s witnessed such a manhole failure will never have faith again. Traffic moves on one guiding principal-avoidance. Mutual avoidance of other vehicles & avoidance of hazards, real or possible. The second guiding principle is momentum = right of way. In Physics, its mass times velocity-and so it is in VN. Always yield to higher mass-higher velocity objects. Hence tractor trailer rigs, buses and laden lorries well expect you to get your smaller/slower arse out of the way. Horns are the ubiquitous audible demand to give way. These are the dinosaurs of traffic, take heed. Buses are the kings, they hasten about under the pilot-age of fearless experienced hands, under color of authority.( If anyone ever did get the mythical Camel through the eye of a needle, it’d expect to see a Saigon bus at the helm). In this hierarchy, pedestrians are the lowest of the low. Especially the slow ones. Motorists typically pay little heed to lower life forms, who are expected to clear the way. Auto’s take their rightful place in the chain, but now with a curious new twist -esteem. This means Esteem cars (i.e: expensive or rare), or Esteem Plates (Blue, or Red, or Sadly – NG). The more expensive & affluent command greater esteem. These odd vehicles are the raptors, swift and treacherous, and oft tempted to usurp motorcycle only lanes to bypass dinosaurs or lesser esteemed autos. Esteem is often demonstrated by speed, careless disregard for safety, and wanton disregard of others. German and British breeds especially. What always seemed odd to me, is that these vehicles are often piloted not by the esteemed-but by hired drivers, whom themselves are ostensibly moto-folk. Do they shake their fists, and curse 4-wheeled aristocrats on the way home on their Honda Waves?

    The sudden increase of dinosaurs and raptors, not to mention motos, is a direct result of VN’s economic fortunes. There’s frankly more trucks hauling goods everywhere. There’s certainly more personal fortunes & esteem, and nowadays-esteemed vehicles are de-riguer. One’s esteem literally hinges upon it. One of the real problems of autos is where the hell to park? There is an alarming number of vehicles being idled around awaiting their owners call. Like aircraft circling O’hare in a blizzard, these raptors circle aimlessly about whilst their owners meet, shop, lunch, or conduct business. Meter maids – for lack of a better term- now chase many off the sidewalks & curbs back into already congested traffic. On top of this, the number of motorbikes-VN’s transportation staple- has skyrocketed in the past decade. All these vehicles, 2 wheel, 4 wheel, and more, are now out competing for a rightful share of thoroughfare. Congestion is inevitable, traffic density is way up. Despite which, Saigon can still generally be transversed in under 30 minutes by motorbike even in heavy traffic. The key is knowing the narrow neighborhood alternatives. This too part of the problem. An increasing number of motorbikes are being bullied off into the narrow honeycombed residential byways, once the quiet province of pedestrians and bicycles. One cannot disregard those cursed carts either – Slowly hauling trash, bricks, re-bar, and all manner of gainly or awkward items. Their engines and drivers strain slowly, they are the tortoises slowly meandering the roadways. The construction and refuse industry depends on them. Tourists too demand their perilously slow & ungainly Xichlos.

    One other aspect of traffic culture: mobs. Organized queuing is for the timid. Push to the front, or follow a flanking strategy. Even if it means impeding opposing or cross traffic. is Red lights and railway crossings are a prime example. Gridlock is a living testament. Even emergency vehicles like ambulances cannot cut a swath, and alarmingly few will yield to anything but flashing Blue-Lights. Traffic control devices (traffic lights) are fairly new to VN, and like the white line down the middle of the roadway, are oft dismissed as a ‘suggestion’ rather than a limitation. People do drive on the wrong side of the road, people do ignore lights.

    Speed kills. New and improved roadways are raising the bar, and drivers are opening the throttle. Highways, and expressways are all the rage. Where else can a raptor be let off the leash. Mishaps are simply all the more grim and gruesome. To my mind this has become the most deadly potion. The MV (mass*velocity) quotient, more vehicles, more mass, and now more velocity. But more velocity requires greater braking distance, farther vision, more room for reactions. Carts, children, bicycles, and Honda Cubs have not gotten faster. Relatedly, the boom has brought ‘urgency’ to the mindset. Esteemed and otherwise are dashing cross town to important meetings, truck drivers with harrowing schedules and demands, Better roads, autobahn vehicles, a sense of privilege, and the pressures of keeping up in the post WTO boom are exacting a blood toll.

    For all it’s criticism, the seeming chaos of Saigon traffic is really a symphony, or an ongoing opera, but clearly something of a marvel -if one pauses to consider the vast number of people & good transported with ugly flair. I’d dare to venture that few places do it more efficiently. Or as seemingly incongruous as it may seem, even more ‘green’. Has there been some attempt to quantify the efficiency of transport in VN. Trending petrol per person at it’s simplest level? Most observers prescribe in one way or another, an ethnocentric solution. Such “Where I come from…” solutions would simply thwart this ugly but compelling efficiency.

    The alarm here focuses upon the spiraling number of accidents. Helmets certainly are key to preventing tragic head injuries, but I suspect that other traumas-like lost limbs ans spinal injuries still lead the way. The catalyst to helmet laws was the prolonged and intensive hospitalization required of head injuries. Patients required months of intensive care and treatment. Hospitals were being choked; beds, nursing & doctors were being stretched dangerously thin to attend to increasing numbers of horrific head trauma cases. Helmets have helped, health authorities admit, with the gravity & incidence of head injuries. Nonetheless, the number of traffic trauma cases still swells emergency rooms with less celebrated, but albeit more easily treated infirmaries such as broken bones. Effective measures need to diminish the occurrence of injury-probable accidents. Rules and enforcement need to be applied to put speed in check, keep high density thoroughfares clear , and severe penalties introduced for ‘reckless driving’ behaviors which imperil others.

    • cauxang

      Very good Stephen.