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.

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.