Vietnam (finally) instituted a helmet law for motorbike riders last December (2007). I’d heard that they’d tried it once a few years prior, but it just failed miserably.
Surprising, the time, it’s worked. Instantly. The day before it got enacted, people still hadn’t bought their helmets- in wait-and-see mode. But once that Friday came around, everyone had theirs own.
Cops were out everywhere, ready to enforce, helmet shops were making a killing.
A couple of months later, even I got pulled over for not wearing one (completely forgot). 150K VND (9 USD) per occurrence. Some unlucky people would get pulled over multiple times during the same day, maybe even during the same trip- luckily, there was a 3 fine maximum per day.
So, sounds like a win-win situation right? More people, less injuries.
But not quite.
If I were to guess the law would have gone something like this: Everyone on a motorbike must wear a helmet in all situations. To find the right helmet, you can go to a shop and check a helmet to make sure it has been officially approved for safety by the government, probably with some kind of sticker. Government makes some money of each approval to fund the initiative. All these ideas, as it turns out, are wrong.
- Children under a certain age do not need to wear helmets. In a 15mph accident, who do you think has a better chance of survival if flung into the street, a 25 year old, or a 2 year old child? Some might say claim there are no helmets for youth, but this is from lack of demand, not inability to produce helmets.
- Helmets have stickers on them. Makes them look official and shiny. But these aren’t government stickers or official safety approvals of any kind. They’re just shiny.
- The government law itself is loose. It’s basically, if you’re X age, wear something on your head that could be construed from far away, as a helmet. Whether it’s a helmet or not, or a safe helmet, does not matter. Your safety is in your own responsibility, even if maybe that’s what the law was made to eliminate? Force people to wear helmets, otherwise they will not?
- Before the law, I didn’t want to wear a helmet because I figured it would me fear driving faster/more recklessly less. This is true. Not only for me, but I’ve heard that accident numbers are not so good. Maybe lower deaths, but people are driving more dangerously.
What’s happened now in the fashion of helmets here, is everyone is wearing baseball cap helmets. I was intrigued by these myself, but then Thuy told me, no way, they’re unsafe. But I said, how could they be unsafe? They have to be approved for the government right?
These padded baseball caps, which are guaranteed not to save your life or keep you from becoming paralyzed, are perfect acceptable under the helmet law. And since they can be stylish (like 59 50s), it’s the huge trend here.
(I was going to put a picture here, but just haven’t gotten around to it- this post has been waiting for over a month while I tried to get that picture)
This also calls into the question of how safe legitimate helmets are. How can you really be sure you’re wearing life protection, and not a padded hard hat? For me, if I have to wear a helmet, I might as well e safe instead of trying to look cool. Otherwise, what’s the point? But how do I know the helmet which I bought to save my life really will do its job? There’s no one (government group) to check and let me know! So now, even though I’m worried about safety, I might be just as poor off as those stylish people trying to do the minimum to not get fined.
Great work Vietnam. Taking a great idea, and making it useless. But at least they can write that they did it on paper. Helmet law to save lives. Check.