Dear Hadrien,

I’ve been living in HCMC for nearly four months now. Last week, I finally bought a motorbike to travel to work, but (and I am a bit ashamed to tell you, and please don’t tell my mum!) I have already been involved in a traffic accident. As I was only partially at fault, and no one was badly injured, I just apologized, picked up my motorbike and drove off. Later on, my friend warned me that I could have been in a lot of trouble if the police had been at the scene. I realize this is probably true, so what can I do in order to avoid potential liability if something like this happens again?

An accident is unfortunately something that many of us already have or may experience at some point in the future while living in Vietnam. Your friend was entirely right when he told you that an accident like yours may have negative consequences. In order to avoid, or at least to mitigate those consequences, it is good to know something about your rights and especially your obligations under Vietnamese law as a driver.

A good starting point for that is the Law on Road Traffic, which describes the hundreds of traffic rules for vehicles and their operators participating in road traffic in Vietnam. This law makes it clear, for example, that in order to drive a “standard” motorbike with a capacity of 50 cm3 or more, you need to be at least 18 and physically fit, and you must have a proper and valid driver’s license.

When driving around on your motorbike in the streets, you will need to carry the following documents: a vehicle registration document, a category A1 or A2 driver’s license and a civil liability insurance certificate. The Law on Road Traffic states that all those directly involved in a traffic accident must immediately stop their vehicles, keep the conditions at the site of the accident unchanged and, except for some emergency situations, remain at the scene until the arrival of the police.

It’s good to know that if you consider purchasing a new motorbike, under Vietnamese law you are, in principle, required to register it with a local traffic police division. As a foreigner, you need to fill out a vehicle registration form and produce a valid identification document, a residence card with a term of one year or more, your work permit (if applicable), a so-called letter of introduction from a competent Vietnamese organization or agency and vehicle papers, which includes a vehicle transfer deed, a document confirming that you paid your vehicle registration and a document that proves the origin of the vehicle. I agree this process is quite burdensome so you may want to consider either asking a trusted Vietnamese friend to help you or you can simply buy a second-hand motorbike.

One way to limit negative consequences in case you ever become involved in a traffic accident again is to make sure that you are properly insured. Under Vietnamese law, motor vehicle owners are required to purchase insurance for civil liability, which covers loss of property, physical injury and death of third parties caused by your vehicle. If you become involved in a road accident, please keep in mind that you are required to promptly inform the nearest police station, as well as your insurance company. Furthermore, you should realize that driving without a valid driver’s license may be a reason for your insurance company not to cover any damage caused by the accident.

Returning to the Law on Road Traffic, I assume you already know that drivers as well as passengers on motorbikes must wear a helmet. But did you also know that drivers are not allowed to drive on sidewalks (even in HCMC!) and that they are not allowed to use an umbrella, a mobile phone or an audio device while driving? And your only legal excuse to carry more than one person on your motorbike would be that you are carrying someone who is sick and needs emergency medical treatment, that you are escorting somebody who has committed an illegal act or that you are carrying a child under the age of 14. So keep that in mind and drive safely!

A member of the Paris Bar, Hadrien Wolff has been practicing law in Vietnam for more than seven years, currently as a partner of Audier & Partners based at its HCMC office. Having gained extensive legal experience in the Netherlands and Cambodia, Marijn Sprokkereef is an associate at the Hanoi office of the same firm. Audier & Partners is an international law firm with presence in Vietnam, Myanmar and Mongolia, providing advice to foreign investors on a broad range of legal issues.

Every month, Hadrien and Marijn answer legal questions from Oi readers. If you have any legal questions you want answered, send them to legal@ oivietnam.com.