Drive Safely

Hi Antoine,
I’m a student from the EU traveling in Southeast Asia. I am going to spend a few months in Vietnam and will be driving amotorbike throughout my trip. Do you have any advice in case I have a road accident?

Motorbike trips in Vietnam are always an amazing experience. Don’ forget to go to Ha Giang in the north: It’s one of the most beautiful regions I visited in Vietnam.

You are right to be cautious. Road accidents are common in Vietnam. Most foreigners do not know what to do when they discover themselves involved in one. The road network, lagging behind economic and demographic growth, has difficulty accommodating the 40 million scooters, including more than 7 million in Ho Chi Minh City. Despite substantial improvements year after year, heavy traffic congestion causes many accidents.

Road accident is even reported to be the leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds in Vietnam. In 2013, Vietnam was ranked the 45th most dangerous nation in terms of road safety, with a death rate of 23.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, or 55 per 100,000 vehicles. France, in comparison, had a rate of 5.65 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in the same year and was ranked 153rd in the world.

In this context, it is always good to be reminded the basic rules that should be followed to have a safe motorbike trip.

First tip, which might seem obvious but better to be said than not is: Get proper medical insurance coverage. Vietnam’s health facilities leave a lot to be desired. Only some international private clinics may provide health care close to EU standards, but they are expensive. A proper medical coverage will allow you to have access to those clinics and, in case it is needed, to be transferred to another country or back to your home country.

There are also some local legal requirements that you should know and comply with in order to be safe. You have to choose a reliable helmet. Helmets are compulsory in Vietnam since 2007, according to the law on road traffic, and that has saved many lives because the police controls are strict. Be careful when selecting one because it does not always correspond to European or US standards: You can rely on the ECE 22/04 and ECE 22/05 labels (European norms) or DOT label (US norm) if you want to ensure the helmet is high quality. Such helmets should have an ECE or DOT sticker.

Furthermore, there can be no more than two on a scooter. Finally, you need a driving licence if you want to drive a scooter over 50cc. Since October 15th, 2014, an international licence is accepted if your country of origin has been part of the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. If not, you may convert your national licence to a Vietnamese one at these addresses: Traffic Department (252 Ly Chinh Thang, D3 for Ho Chi Minh City) or Road Directorate (106 Thai Thinh, for Hanoi).

Now, let’s have a quick look at local traffic rules. Even if traffic remains rather chaotic, the Vietnamese law on road traffic (last promulgated in 2008) is well drafted and close to the rules in many other countries. In recent years, the government has made serious efforts to improve road safety and reduce the number of traffic violations. The general rules are simple: you drive on the right; drivers must give way to pedestrians crossing at the crosswalks provided for this purpose. At crossings and in the absence of signs, the right priority (priority to the right) is applied. On the other hand, in roundabouts, the priority on the left prevails. As you will see very soon once you get in the country, it is clear that drivers (mainly motorbikes) do not always respect these rules. If the stop at the red light is generally respected, it must be noted that orange lights are systematically considered as green lights. As for pedestrian crossings, they are simply ignored by drivers of any kind. Thus, it is necessary at least to respect banal safety measures such as no drunk driving, no driving on sidewalks, respect of red lights and speed limits, etc.

Even if you follow this advice, you might still be part of a road accident during your travel. 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, if you were driving the motorbike (as opposed to you being a passenger).

I wish a nice (and safe) motorbike trip!

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