You see it everywhere on roads in Vietnam, particularly in the north and in the countryside; Vietnamese and foreigners driving or riding as passengers on a motorcycle, and not wearing a helmet. While wearing a helmet has been mandatory in Vietnam since December 2007, drivers and passengers — including children — often forgo wearing helmets for any number of reasons, sometimes with devastating consequences.
Of the 30,000 road accidents that occur annually in Vietnam, 70 percent involve motorcycles. Of this 70 percent, 30 percent result in the death of the driver or passenger or both, caused by head trauma or brain injuries. That translates to over 6,000 deaths per year. Studies have shown that wearing a helmet while driving a motorcycle reduces the risk of death by 42 percent, potentially preventing 2,500 needless deaths each year.
Public awareness campaigns about the benefits of wearing a helmet from the National Traffic Safety Committee have been ongoing, with the latest campaign aimed at Vietnamese youth. This demographic often wears poor-quality helmets when riding, which is equivalent to wearing no helmet when it comes to protection.
Close to Home
The death of Simon Reid on Au Co Road in Hanoi in May was a senseless tragedy that might have been avoided — alcohol consumption aside — if he had been wearing a helmet. Simon gave his helmet to his passenger, who didn’t have one. She lived.
If you’ve lived in Vietnam for some time, you will know this story or one similar. If you have heard many stories like this and know many people who have died in motorbike accidents, it won’t be a surprise. We’re all affected. Our chief editor can count over 10 people he’s known in this country who have died in motorbike accidents.
After a fundraiser in Hanoi to help with repatriation expenses, Davy Reid — Simon’s father — donated the money to #BeRoadAware — a new public awareness campaign that educates youth about the importance of wearing a helmet while riding.
“If I could prevent just one family going through the grief that is consuming my family, it would be worth it,” said Mr. Reid.
Ellie Sanders knew Simon well, and is one of several expats who make up the small #BeRoadAware campaign team. “We want to do right by Simon, his family and our friends,” she said. “Our aim is to make it unacceptable for any one of your mates to get on a motorbike without a helmet, and to encourage the use of taxis and ride-sharing services.”
From The Bottom Up
#BeRoadAware has been actively soliciting grassroots support for its campaign with local venues, particularly those in Tay Ho that attract a large, younger crowd.
“We’ve been buying helmets over the past few weeks, which we will design [with artwork] and leave at popular Tay Ho hangouts. If we, or the staff, see someone get on a bike, we want them to at least have protection on their head.”
“We will also have a kitty for those who don’t have a Plan B [on how to get home]. We don’t want people jumping on the back of a bike because they spent all their cash.”
Ellie said that a few venues have even offered to keep motorbikes locked up overnight to prevent drink-driving, and to alleviate the worry people have about leaving their bikes unattended.
But that’s only a part of the #BeRoadAware campaign, which is ramping up across Hanoi. “From the fundraising money, we will have an experienced, licensed teacher train beginners on the dangers of Hanoi’s roads.”
And for foreigners driving on Vietnam’s roads, travel insurance should be an imperative. “A Vietnamese licence is needed for most [travel insurance] policies to be accepted. #BeRoadAware will provide avenues for travellers to pursue a Vietnamese licence,” said Ellie.
But it’s the focus on wearing a helmet that is at the campaign’s core, and “coolness” and “safety” should not be mutually exclusive terms. “We’ll have a design-your- own-helmet booth, where you can bring your helmet, and one of Hanoi’s skilled local artists will paint it for you.
“We just want to prevent needless deaths on Hanoi’s roads.”
For more information about this campaign, search for #beroadaware on Facebook