Sobering up traffic via hefty fines for boozing

11:43 | 14/01/2020
Transport services that help drinkers get home safe and sound and avoid a run-in with the new regulations are to become piping hot after Vietnam imposed much heftier fines for drink driving from January 1. Kim Thanh reports.
sobering up traffic via hefty fines for boozing
Ride-hailing groups are one segment that can pick up the pieces of the new regulations Photo: Le Toan

“We have a team of employees to take you home. Feel free to enjoy time with your friends and family at our restaurant. Your safety is our top priority,” is a banner hanging above the gate of a beer parlour in Thu Duc district, Ho Chi Minh City, snagging the attention of customers and passers-by.

This is one of the solutions restaurants and bia hoi bars came up with to alleviate the problem of drink driving, to which they are a constant witness every day. Many parlours do not even charge customers to pay extra for the service.

The manager of a beer parlour in Hanoi said, “If all of our staff are occupied during peak hours, we will help our customers book a cab or a motorbike taxi. In case customers want to catch a taxi or bike to go home after drinking, they are allowed to leave their vehicles in the parking lot overnight.”

New options appear

There are similar transport services offered for a charge on social networks that are drawing a lot of attention. The “Say goi xe – xe nhan say” group is a good example. The group, which is introduced as a forum connecting inebriated people in need of transport with drivers, was launched a few days ago but has 1,300 members already.

This group’s operation is similar to goods delivery services, as customers can give the destination and drivers will provide their phone number and proof of their drivers’ licence and then discuss a fee in advance.

According to Duc Minh, an admin of this group, this service is advertised on Facebook, Telegram, and Zalo and is available in Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City.

Another alternative is the Rada application, which is a local startup offering traffic rescue. Accordingly, users need only provide their location and a driver will be dispatched to first safely put their vehicle in the parking area and then take them home. Motorbike drivers charge VND300,000 ($13.00) per trip while car drivers charge VND500,000 ($21.50). However, many say these fees are too high for low- and medium-income people.

Gains in traffic safety

Khuat Viet Hung, vice chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, said that Vietnam needs to mobilise the entire political system and society, as a nationwide joining of hands could cut traffic accidents by a significant margin.

In a country where driving under the influence is one of the three main reasons leading to 15,000 traffic fatalities a year, according to the National Traffic Safety Committee, restricting the harmful effects of alcohol by legislation can be essential to foster a culture of responsible drinking.

While the Law on Prevention and Control of Harms of Liquor and Beer Abuse took effect only a fortnight ago, the number of traffic accidents due to alcohol abuse has reduced sharply.

“Normally, we receive about 100-120 emergency cases a day, but in the past week there were only 60-70 cases,” Vu Xuan Hung, head of the Department of Orthopaedic Trauma at Thanh Nhan Hospital, adding that the hospital received no emergency cases caused by drink driving.

Vietnam-Germany Hospital, the hospital that receives a large number of emergency patients injured in traffic accidents, also reported a 4 per cent decrease in traffic injuries caused by alcohol during the first week of the year. Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalised at Hanoi Emergency Centre 115 due to traffic accidents caused by drink driving decreased by a record 12 per cent.

It is a heaven-sent blessing because the Lunar New Year holiday and the weeks leading up to it are peak season for traffic accidents, especially those caused by driving under the influence. Hung from Thanh Nhan Hospital is convinced that this can be traced back to the Law on Prevention and Control of Harms of Liquor and Beer Abuse and Decree No.100/2019/ND-CP on administrative sanctions for road traffic and rail transport violations.

New regulations with stricter-than-ever penalties for driving under the influence have come into effect on January 1. Now, the limit for blood alcohol content is zero, meaning that even the smallest amount of alcohol could fetch a severe penalty.

Now cyclists and electric motorbike riders face fines of VND400,000-600,000 ($17-26) just for drinking a drop of alcohol while motorcyclists and car drivers could be fined for VND6-8 million ($260-350) and VND30-40 million ($1,300-1,750), doubling the previous penalties. Additionally, anyone may have their licences revoked for up to two years.

Vietnam’s laws on alcohol have never been so tight, nor penalties so severe. Many consumers feel the rules are over the top and penalties are too high compared to Vietnamese people’s disposable income. However, there is a case to be made in the laws efficiency as a deterrent “forcing” drinkers to be more responsible.

In addition, current drink driving penalties in Vietnam are way more tolerant than those in other countries. In comparison, Japan imposes fines of $5,000-10,000 and in Singapore driving under the influence draws a $4,000 fine.

Violators can even be imprisoned for three to six months in the United Kingdom and Singapore (the term is three years in Japan and South Korea), be sentenced to community service, have their driving licences permanently revoked, or be required to take their driving test once more to get their licences back.

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