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Cablegate: Crawling From the Wreckage: Vietnam's Deadly Roadways

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1. (U) Summary: Traffic accidents are Vietnam's unrecognized
killers, leading to many more deaths than HIV/AIDS and avian
influenza combined. As Vietnam has become increasingly prosperous,
the number of motor vehicles, primarily motorbikes, on Vietnamese
roads has skyrocketed. Large numbers of poorly trained and
ill-equipped drivers lead to more and more traffic fatalities.
Meanwhile, hospitals do not have the resources to care for road
accident victims. The Government of Vietnam (GVN) recently passed
updated road safety legislation, including a revised helmet law, to
take effect by the end of this year. Several donors have launched
public safety campaigns. Together, these efforts might have an
impact. End Summary.

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Get Your Motor Runnin': Motor Vehicles Keep Increasing
--------------------------------------------- ---------

2. (U) Per official statistics, as of December 2006, Vietnam had
over 21 million motorbikes (one for every four citizens), though
observers believe that figure may under-represent the actual number.
Vietnam is the fastest motorizing nation in the world with
motorbikes increasing by 15 percent (about 2 million units) each
year. Ho Chi Minh City alone has 3.2 million motorcycles and
316,000 autos legally registered with additional 500,000 motorcycles
and 60,000 autos registered elsewhere on Ho Chi Minh City roads. An
additional one million other motorized vehicles (including
automobiles, trucks, and buses), together with millions of bicycles
and pedestrians, clog Vietnam's limited thoroughfares. Vietnam's
National Traffic Safety Commission (NTSC) expects significant
increases in cars and buses, leading to more traffic congestion and
more collisions with motorbikes.

Highway to Hell: Traffic Accidents and Road Deaths
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (U) With rapid transition to motor vehicles, the World Health
Organization (WHO) predicts road accidents will become the third
leading cause of death in Asia by 2020. Vietnam is a dubious
pace-setter with a four-fold increase in traffic accidents over the
past 10 years. According to official statistics, 35 people die and
nearly 70 suffer brain trauma each day from road accidents, with at
least 12,000 dead and 17,000 seriously injured in 2007 alone.
Vietnam's over-all traffic-related mortality rate is nearly double
that of high-income countries. Traffic accidents are the largest
cause of death for Vietnamese between 18 and 45 years of age.
According to the WHO, while Vietnamese between 15 and 24 make up 20
percent of the total national population, they account for 40
percent of total severe road traffic crashes. According to the
NTSC, Vietnamese highways are particularly dangerous, as 55 percent
of accidents occur on national highways and 25 percent on provincial
highways, compared with 17 percent in urban areas.

I Can't Drive 55: Why Are There So Many Accidents
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (U) Nguyen Trong Thai, Deputy Chief of the NTSC Secretariat,
recently told ESTHOff that 80 percent of accidents occur due to
non-compliance with traffic regulations, 35 percent of which are due
to violations of speed limits. Not surprisingly, accidents spike
during holiday periods as travel and alcohol consumption increase.
In a 2005 survey, 30 percent of interviewees admitted to drinking
and driving. According to GVN statistics, from 2001 to 2003, 34
percent of traffic fatalities tested positive for alcohol in their
bloodstream. Many deaths and serious injuries occur because
motorists fail to use safety equipment. The NTSC estimates that, as
of mid-2007, only 3 percent of motorbike riders wore helmets. A
survey on casualties conducted at the Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi
found that 79 percent of traffic accident victims did not wear
helmets, fasten safety belts or use other safety equipment.

Running on Empty: Health and Economic Impacts
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (U) Vietnam's high rate of traffic accidents slows economic
growth and burdens its public health system. The Asian Development
Bank (ADB) estimates that traffic deaths and injuries cost the
Vietnamese economy close to US $885 million each year (2.45% of
GDP). Road accidents kill many family breadwinners, plunging
thousands into poverty. Per the Vietnam Administration of
Preventive Medicine, the price of traffic accident related
hospitalizations in 2004 totaled nearly 12 trillion Vietnamese dong
(approximately USD 750 million). More recent numbers likely are
much higher. Vietnamese doctors describe trauma centers as

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"gridlocked" due to the high volume of head injuries from road
accidents, with hospitals and emergency services overwhelmed,
particularly during holiday periods, and unable to focus on other
injuries and diseases. Hospitals in major cities, such as Viet Duc
hospital in Hanoi and Cho Ray hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, are
forced to treat road accident victims from large geographical areas
as provincial hospitals are not equipped to handle serious injuries,
particularly head trauma. Vietnam's poor road safety also impacts
Americans, as the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City estimated at
least five deaths of American Citizens in traffic related accidents
in the past year.

Highway Patrolman: GVN Response

6. (U) Concerned that public education campaigns had raised
awareness, but not compliance, with traffic regulations, on June 29,
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed Resolution 32. The
resolution, which the NTSC started drafting in December 2006,
focuses on seven areas: 1) increasing public awareness, 2)
increasing sanctions for violations of traffic laws (e.g., speeding,
wrong way on one-way roads), 3) managing quality of vehicles, 4)
driver training and education, 5) helmet laws, 6) improved
management of traffic safety, and 7) infrastructure improvements.
Most notably, Resolution 32 made helmets mandatory on highways and
for civil servants beginning September 15 and mandatory for all
motorists on all roads beginning December 15 of this year. The new
law increased fines dramatically, up to 150,000 dong (approximately
USD 9.25) for non-compliance.

7. (SBU) In actuality, Resolution 32 enforces many laws already on
the books. For example, the GVN required helmets for motorists as
early as 1995, though the failure to publish implementing
regulations led motorists to treat the requirements as voluntary.
This time, according to Thai at the NTSC, the GVN already has
introduced implementing regulations and published quality standards
for helmets. Greig Craft, President of the Asia Injury Prevention
Foundation (registered as a U.S. 501(c)(3) non-profit), which
manufacturers Protec motorbike helmets at a facility outside of
Hanoi, told ESTHOff that while he had heard rumors of slightly
delayed implementation of the nationwide helmet requirement, he
remained optimistic that the GVN had the political willpower and
resources to implement this new mandate. Craft also noted that for
the past several years, Protec had produced 100,000-150,000 helmets
per year. It now produces 150,000 helmets each month and cannot
meet consumer demand - a strong sign that Vietnamese motorists
expect the government to enforce the law.

20 Miles of Bad Highway: Challenges

8. (SBU) GVN enforcement efforts face many challenges, beginning
with a lack of resources to improve the underlying road
infrastructure, standardize driving education and motor vehicle
inspections, and employ enough traffic police to adequately monitor
driving behavior. Inconsistent and sporadic enforcement also will
open the traffic police to claims of corruption (above and beyond
the normal, everyday shakedowns) and could quickly dissolve public
willingness to follow the law. Some motorists complain that they
cannot find helmets, particularly for children, and that the lack of
supply has driven up prices. Protec's Craft expects additional
helmet imports from Taiwan and Japan to arrive shortly, but worries
about substandard domestic helmets (estimated by Craft at about 50
percent of the market) and counterfeit products coming overland from

Convoy: Donor Assistance

9. (U) Several donors have begun to focus on this major public
health issue. AIPF is coordinating the Vietnam Helmet Wearing
Campaign (to which the US Embassy made a modest USD 1000
contribution), through which other governments, international
organizations and private sector partners (including Intel Vietnam)
are funding public awareness campaigns promoting helmet use. AIPF
is seeking an additional USD 1 million to broaden the message after
the helmet law comes into effect and to prepare for possible future
actions to promote seatbelt usage or prevent drunk driving. In
2005, the World Bank approved a credit of USD 30 million to fund a
four-year road safety project. The ADB and the Japan International
Cooperation Agency also are funding road safety improvements as part
of transportation infrastructure loans. In September, the Bloomberg

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Family Foundation, set up by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
contributed USD 9 million to the World Health Organization to carry
out road safety programs in Vietnam and Mexico focusing on
increasing the use of motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child
restraints, reducing drink-driving, and improving the visibility of
pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.


10. (U) The GVN and donors are attempting to reduce the carnage on
Vietnamese roadways. However, improvements in traffic
infrastructure and increases in helmet usage only address part of
the road safety problem. The GVN and Vietnamese civil society need
to take more aggressive steps to change the unsafe behavior of
Vietnamese motorists, particularly speeding, drunk driving, and
refusing to wear seatbelts. With many years of experience working
to change American driving behavior, the USG and advocacy
organizations could help provide technical assistance and guidance
to their Vietnamese counterparts on public education campaigns, law
enforcement, and road and car safety engineering.


© Scoop Media

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