Start from the Beginning - Motorbike Diaries Vol. 1
What the Helllllllmet?
Whenever I get on my bike and take off into the street I always have a small wave of panic come over me. I feel like I forgot something. I feel strangely exposed; one might say naked. Then the beeping horns jolt me back into the present and I remember I don’t have a car door to close or a seatbelt to put on. It’s just me perched on this motorbike totally exposed; except for my helmet that I’ve grown to love and hate.
Hate: It’s hot and gives my hair that lovely ‘helmet head’ look.
Love: It will save my brain (and life) from crashing into the pavement.
I guess I can accept a bad hair day in order to protect my head. After all, I’ve given up on vanity in this country anyway…it’s pointless.
As much as I love and value my helmet, I can’t say that the Vietnamese people feel the same way about their helmets. I picked up the local English paper the other day and came across an article entitled “Draft decree extends fines for helmet law violations”. Granted, the title wasn’t too catchy, but it is translated news after all. I learned that the helmet law was only put in place here in 2007 which explains why many people still don’t wear helmets in Vietnam, it’s still a pretty new concept.
One of the first things I noticed when I moved here was the advertising campaign in place to promote helmet usage. From what I can tell they have taken famous Vietnamese celebrities and photographed them with helmets on. I kind of doubt that a famous Vietnamese celebrity would be driving a motorbike, but you never know in this country. It would be like Paris Hilton driving a Ford Taurus; not likely. They also have billboards with adults wearing helmets and their young children also wearing a helmet. The first time I saw this in advertisement I didn’t need to know any Vietnamese to understand the message it was trying to get across. However it is one of the main ‘laws’ here that is blatantly ignored. Seventy-five percent of the children I see riding on motorbikes don’t have a helmet on, yet the parents are wearing one. Much like a rubiks cube, I will never make sense of this.
I found that I couldn’t put the Helmet Article down, it was the first time I was getting a glimpse into some of the traffic laws around here. I read on and learned there are new helmet and road traffic laws that will go into effect in July. There are road traffic laws…who knew? The current helmet law only enforces helmets for people 16 years and older, but in July that will change requiring all kids to wear helmets regardless of age. If they don’t have a helmet, they risk getting fined $6 to $11 US Dollars. I can’t say that it’s much of a deterrent, however, for the local Vietnamese it probably is. Personally I think they may need to be a bit more specific about the law, such as you must wear and fasten your helmet; so many people just place it on their head and never even engage the strap…a bit pointless, but I guess it’s like not wearing your seatbelt in a car….stupid.
In addition to the new ageless helmet law, there are “several other acts that are deemed illegal”. You can no longer leave sharp objects and slippery substances on the road. You can no longer threaten or coerce passengers to use transport services. Finally, my personal favorite, you can no longer fake your license plates. Apparently this was all legal before; slightly disturbing!
Next there is a whole series of new laws about passengers on motorbikes. Currently you see 3 or 4 people on one motorbike. Normally it’s a family, but sometimes it’s 3 adults…a bit too cozy for me. However the new laws state that the 3rd person on the motorbike must be under 14 and for bicycles the person must be under 7. Hold on a sec…let that sink in…yes, it is possible to fit 3 people on a bicycle.
Reading on I learn that it is however legal to carry 3 adults on a motorbike when carrying a patient to the hospital or escorting a criminal. Do you really want to escort a criminal on the back of your motorbike with another adult? Really? I’m obviously missing something here in the translation!
The funniest part of the article for me was that vehicles will now be fined for failing to give way to pedestrians and wheelchairs on crosswalks; the fine is $3. After living here 8 months, even I know that crosswalks are absolutely useless. In reality Pedestrians don’t any right of way. But at least I got a good chuckle out of reading about the new pedestrian friendly laws.
It was an informative and entertaining article all around. Yet I believe the pictures that I’ve included here speak for themselves…I doubt that I see any difference starting on July 1st, but at least the government is trying to do the right thing…so I will give them recognition for that. However, trying and actually accomplishing it is another story.
Get your own Vietnam Motorbike License and get out on the streets!
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