Morning rush hour is crazy. If you don't like the way we drive in Hanoi, stay off the sidewalks...For real. Sidewalks, if they exist, and are not blocked with parked motorbikes or squatter cafes are a legitimate driving zone here, but with the parked bikes and "cafes", that's only about 5 meters on a hundred meter "sidewalk". No one knows how to drive here, cars or motorbikes, but the car drivers and bus drivers, due to their sheer size, are the worst. They are all first generation drivers, so people apply the same rules they do to walking or bicycling to driving a car or motorbike, like blowing red lights, driving on the sidewalk, driving in the wrong lane, and all sorts of madness. An excerpt from UNICEF's website about traffic deaths in Vietnam sums it nicely (with parenthesis by me) :
- Limited awareness of road safety and its high death toll in Viet Nam (there is no concerted government effort educate people about driving safety, at all, but plenty of propaganda about the glory of living in the Worker's Paradise, after all they have to have their priorities straight)
- Limited knowledge of traffic rules (the driving test here is this : Can you drive a figure eight? Yes? You pass, that's all. I'm not joking. And that's if you actually go through the hassle to apply for a legal permit, as opposed to simply bribing the appropriate person to get a license. I assume that's the most popular method with the rich car owners. Although, many of the nouveau riche types in Hanoi can't drive, and instead, have their own drivers)
- Limited knowledge about safe driving behaviour (A very smart thing here is that people drive on whichever side of the road is most convenient at the time. Head on collisions are the most common accident death here. People will also pass someone, who is passing someone, who is passing someone, so essentially, the road goes from being a two lane to a single one-way in the course of two seconds. Not to mention, cars rarely stay in a lane, they prefer to drive down the center stripe, in order to try and pass the motorbikes-even though they are immediately then passed once the whole road slows down because of people practicing the same behavior, but more on Asia's "Me First!" attitude later. And last but not least, we have the Vietnamese "No Look Merge". The proper way to merge into traffic here is just to barrel into traffic without actually looking at the traffic first, with the expectation that the people approaching will stop for you. Sometimes they do, and sometimes that causes accidents, sometimes they don't, and the merger gets run over.)
- Fatalistic view about traffic accidents. Many people do not understand that these injuries are preventable. (This is also very Asian. They believe strongly in Luck and Fortune. If your baby got sick, you obviously did not burn enough spirit money to please the ancestors-it has nothing to do with the fact that no one washes their hands. If you get sick, it's because the weather "changed" by 10 degrees, not because the meat you eat was kept on a hot sidewalk, inches from the sewage filled gutter, all day long. Not making that one up either, most raw ingredients are sold on the street, and animals tend to be butchered on the street, or in the back yard rather than a proper slaughterhouse, but that's another article. Anyway, everything here is "lucky". There is little sense that you can change your destiny, because in reality, you rarely can in such a stratified society where people die everyday due to "accidents". Everything seems like an act of the gods, from your economic position to traffic accidents)
- Unsafe traffic environment and poor road infrastructure. For example, traffic warning signs are rare and no safe areas for pedestrians. (You'll be driving down the road, and SURPRISE theres a gaping hole in the road, umarked by any signage. You either notice it and don't die, or don't notice, and die/get injured. And I'm not talking a "pot hole", I'm talking like open manhole covers, etc. If you're lucky, someone has stuck a tree branch down there, so people will notice and avoid. Oh, and also, street signs don't exist either. Also, there are no sidewalks here, so you are forced to walk in the middle of the road as a pedestrian, competing with speeding buses, cars and motorbikes.)
- Use of motorcycle helmets is extremely low in spite of good quality, locally produced helmets. (The reason for this is obvious for a Vietnamese. A helmet will restrict growth of a child's brain and neck, and for adults, it will mess their hair up. I'm not kidding, these are the actual quoted reasons why parents won't let their children wear helmets. Because traumatic brain injury will only help a child's brain grow, i guess. Although helmet use has improved here due to crack downs, most of the helmets would make NO difference in a crash, they are basically baseball helmets, ill-fitting with no padding.)
- Poor enforcement of traffic rules. (Occasionally, I see people pulled over by the cops here, and i wonder, HOW BAD DO YOU HAVE TO DRIVE TO GET PULLED OVER!? Seriously, do you have to be going the wrong direction, through a red light, weaving, with 7 people on the scooter, while talking on a cellphone and not wearing a helmet?!)
And I'll just add in one last thing, the honking. People honk their horns all the time here, it's just non-stop honking, all the time. This isn't deadly, but it is annoying. I'm not exaggerating this, wherever there are vehicles here, people are honking just as a way of driving. Instead of turn signal, honk, instead of looking where you're driving, honk, in a traffic jam, honk, to pass someone, honk, while being passed by someone, honk, if someone in front of you is driving slower than you want them to, honk. Especially the car drivers, who drive around just holding their hands on the horn, blaring so that all the motorbikes in front of them get out of their way, although the motorbikes outnumber the cars 100 to 1 and are almost always traveling faster because they are more maneuverable through the traffic here.
But the person in the car is rich, and so, the inferiors on their bikes should move. And they do, because it's a society of inferiors and superiors, masters and servants. To illustrate this, ambulances here are completely pointless, as no one moves for them, or if they do, it's to chase ahead of them, or behind them, while if there is a government official, or a VIP in traffic, they get a motorcade with cops on motorcycles using batons to beat anyone that does not move out of the way quick enough so they can whip through town. Seriously. It will be an amazing testament to my self control if I make it through two years here without pulling a driver out of his car and curb-stomping him, for holding his horn down as he drives behind me. I just hope it's not a VIP.