Where are Vietnam’s traffic police?

With it’s extraordinary road mortality rate, it’s fair to wonder what Vietnam’s traffic police are doing.

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The largest proportion of road fatalities are motorcyclists. In Vietnam, motorcycles aren’t just a form of transport. They are an important part of the haulage system. It is not unusual to see a television or a washing machines, bleating livestock, and passengers on the back of a motorcycle.2017 05 26 08 57 30 So, the traffic police concentrate on motorcyclists. It is in the implementation that the problem becomes evident. The police usually stop motorcyclists to inspect papers, rather than for infractions of the road regulations.

201512110010While casual observation suggests an almost equal distribution of the sexes amongst motorcyclists, it is often women who are the target of inspections. Because women frequently have to transport their children, so tend to be conservative drivers. The men, particularly the young ones, are are those who are reckless.

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Also. the location of the inspections is questionable. They appear to be chosen for a suitability to ambush, rather than with any consideration to the danger that they may pose. Motorcyclists are banned from using the motorways, except when they are the only means of crossing rivers. The on ramp onto a motorway is potentially hazardous under any circumstances, and especially so if it is selected as an ambush point.

And so it proved when a motorcyclist swerved into me as a traffic officer ran into the road to make a stop. No one fell off, and in Vietnam minor collisions don’t even warrant stopping to check for damage. Except that the point of contact on the bicycle was the derailleur, the most expensive component on an already expensive bike.2017 07 23 09 55 46

The traffic police denied all culpability. If anything, they appeared to be amused. In their opinion, it was the motorcyclist’s fault. Their failings, in the location of the ambush, causing the motorcyclist to swerve, and failing to prevent him from leaving the site of an accident, were not a problem in their opinion.

There is an issue with training, and until that is resolved, Vietnam’s motorcyclists will continue to die.

Vietnam’s Upcoming FATF Mutual Evaluation Report

After China, Vietnam has enjoyed the world’s second fastest growing economy for the past 25 years1. Adopting the formula established by Japan, Korea, and China, Vietnam’s success is export driven. The country’s strength is its young, educated and productive workforce[1]Vietnam’s success merits a closer look.20160806 FNC215

In 2012, Vietnam’s economy suffered a setback to both exports and economic growth as China’s economy slowed, and the FATF downgraded Vietnam’s status to that of a jurisdiction not making sufficient progress[2]Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: on-going process – 16 February 2012.

At least two international Banks, HSBC and Wells Fargo terminated their corresponding banking relationships with domestic Vietnamese banks making it extremely difficult for the Vietnamese banks to conduct business on the world stage.
Vietnam GDP growth

By February 2014, Vietnam’s status with the FATF had been restored to that of a jurisdiction no longer subject to the FATF’s on-going global AML/CFT compliance process[3]High-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions and the country’s economic progress was restored[4]Vietnam.

The first FATF AML/CTF Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) for Vietnam occurred in 2009. It was that evaluation that led to the 2012 downgrading. Vietnam’s next evaluation is scheduled 2019, and will be based on criteria set out in the 2012 FATF recommendations[5]Methodology for Assessing Technical Compliance with the FATF Recommendations and the Effectiveness of AML/CFT Systems which place increased emphasis on effectiveness, rather than just compliance.

Vietnam is a known trade route into China for illicit Ivory and rhino horn. Increasingly it is also believed that the illegal wildlife traders worldwide are linked to drug smuggling[6]Do dope-smugglers also peddle ivory?. Vietnam has a reputation as one of the worst wildlife trafficking hubs[7]Vietnam’s crackdown on traffickers of endangered species is only superficial, which makes it surprising that it has such a poor track record for the AML/CFT prosecutions.

It appears that vested interests are a serious factor undermining the willingness of authorities to introduce the necessary legislation, and then investigate and prosecute the crimes[8]Graft-busting in Vietnam.

According to Transparency International, Vietnam has the second highest level of corruption in the Asia Pacific region[9]People and Corruption: Asia Pacific. The banks, which are key to the effectiveness of AML/CFT, are also riddled with corruption[10]What a spate of arrests says about Vietnam’s banking sector.

Direction from senior party leadership is required to give the relevant authorities the motivation to save Vietnam from a relapse in its FATF status.

If Vietnam’s economic growth is to stay on course, it’s leaders will need to recognize the threat that the country faces from failure to prove the effectiveness of its commitment to AML/CFT, at the next MER.

As Asian countries compete with each other, the importance of GDP figures for political leaders cannot be overstated. As evidence, Vietnam has the reputation of publishing GDP statistics impossibly early, before the end of the year[11]Is India Lying About Its World Beating Economy?.

Sustained commitment to meeting the FATF recommendations at the highest level of government is the only way for Vietnam to ensure that it obtains a positive evaluation in 2019.

In an emergency, catch a plane

After seeing two road fatalities within a week of arriving in Vietnam, I was in hospital soon afterwards. While cleaning crews meticulously clear the roads of litter daily, the invisible liquid waste that frequently pollutes the surface making lethally slippery. That’s what I’d discovered, the hard way.

The surgeon at the French Hospital, supposedly Hanoi’s top medical facility, confirmed that my shoulder was not just broken. It had shattered. “Don’t worry” he said. “I treated Stuart O’Grady for the same thing when he was in the Tour de France.” Stuart O’Grady had been one of Australia’s top cyclists. “I will need to operate tomorrow.”

The regional medical officer (RMO) supervising our international community’s medical emergencies asked whether I wouldn’t prefer to be treated in Singapore or Bangkok. Why would I do that, when the surgeon had treated one of the world’s top cyclists.


A week after the surgery it became apparent why that had been a bad decision. A lump had appeared under the skin of my shoulder. I went back to the French Hospital, to be informed that the operating surgeon had returned to France, but that his replacement would conduct the inspection. He visibly blanched as I took off my shirt to reveal the problem.

“Was I in pain?” he asked. I wasn’t. “Come back if there is pain, or it breaks the skin.”

Not happy with the response, I sent photos to the RMO, asking his professional opinion. His two word response: “Not good!”

The next day I was on a flight to Bangkok. The following, Christmas Day, a second operation set about fixing the damage caused in the first operation, and repairing my shoulder.

The surgeon in Bangkok gave me the primitive pieces of wire used in the first surgery. 2016 02 22 14 50 03 It was clear why I’d had a problem from the first surgery.

A couple of weeks later, the RMO interviewed the head of the French hospital about my case. “These things happen” was the director’s response.

Not so. Not in a civilized country, subject to rule of law, and where litigation is a viable option.

While telling this sorry tale to a group of newly acquired friends in Hanoi, one of them confirmed that he and his family had had a bad experience with the French Hospital. His story is a lot worse.

That’s the best treatment in Hanoi. In an emergency, catch a plane.

Vietnam’s new war

Within a week of arriving in Vietnam, I’d seen two fatalities. Within a couple of months the tally was five. Vietnam has the second highest road mortality rate in South East Asia, after Thailand. Both comparable with the worst in the world.

After cycling in the country for almost three years, the reasons are clear. Vietnam’s unique road customs are not adapting well to the increased level of traffic.

Right of way has a different meaning to standards that are the norm in the rest of the world. The biggest vehicles rule. Cyclists and pedestrians have no standing. Motor cyclists have little more.

Intersections are mostly unguarded, even when they are blind. Only rumble strips act as a warning that there is an intersection ahead, and to anticipate vehicles coming into your path. Accidents are common.

Indicators are purely decorative. Movements are used to show intent. Drivers do not wait for a break in traffic to cross opposing traffic, they just slowly move into the path of oncoming vehicles. Taking one’s eyes of the road is dangerous.

But it is common to see drivers of both cars and motor cycles texting and driving. No problem.

Even vehicles traveling in the same direction are a hazard. As a matter of course, motor cycles and cars will overtake, cut in front, and then slow down. Incidents that would precipitate road rage anywhere else in the world, are the norm. It is not unusual to have a vehicle overtake, cut in front, and apply brakes to make an intersection. Like untrained dogs, motorcycles will come off the pavement into heaving traffic, the rider not even looking at the vehicle flows to assess the level of risk.

I have seen a little old lady hurled through the air by a huge Harley as the rider insisted on passing a truck in the gap between the sidewalk and the traffic. The rider did not care to stop.

The authorities have addressed the issue of Vietnam’s poor road mortality statistic. Previously the bodies were covered, and left on the road until the forensic investigation was complete. Now, they are whisked away to hospital, where they are classified as something other than a road fatality.

Living in Vietnam is an unforgettable experience. That’s if you live.