Motorbike Accidents in Vietnam: A Post-Mortem

Submitted by tomo on June 15, 2012 - 4:24pm

Man.

We were only just going to a cafe, just a two minute drive away. I pulled onto a wide one-way street, a stretch of road which connected four major throughways, and drove along the straightaway while doing my best to not hit anyone in front of me - the only rule of the Vietnamese road. But out of nowhere another bike came in on my right, leaning into me, tangling our bikes together like knotted headphone cables.

When I first learned to ride a motorbike, I was a foreigner who came from an extremely car-based culture to Vietnam, a country which shows how a society can be built to work around motorbikes rather than cars. I wasn't used to seeing so many bikes and so few cars on the roads, nor was I used to riding a motorbike yet. But living in Vietnam the Vietnamese way means eating with chopsticks (for noodles, but using hands to eat chicken feet) and getting around via scooter.

After several years of riding a Honda motorbike in Vietnam, including a fantastic voyage from Saigon to Hoi An via the central highlands, I finally got into my first accident. If you ride in Vietnam long enough, it will happen to you too. It's like cancer - survive everything else long enough and cancer will kill you. You can lead a safer life and reduce your odds but the odds aren't great. Cut out bad habits like texting while riding, rubbernecking at Vietnamese girls. But if you live long enough without anything else killing you you'll wreck your bike.

Each year some 11,000 Vietnamese, and a handful of foreigners, die in motorbike accidents. For those who like gruesome soundbites, that's 1.5 deaths every hour. The number of non-fatal accidents is clearly orders of magnitude higher as they occur more often. In the middle are the statistics who sustain serious injuries and who will not be able to work to pay for their own medical bills. Sometimes the dead ones are the lucky ones.

You can drive slow. You can ride a 50cc Honda Cub that can only ride slow at its maximum speed anyways. You can concentrate on avoiding hitting anyone in front of you, as you must trust everyone behind you also does. You can be the minority who uses turn signals and stops at red lights. But you can't do a damn thing about someone running a red light or quickly passing you and then pulling into you well before they've cleared you (which is what happened to me). You can't get out of the way when a drunk-driving car fails to stop at a red light and smashes through rows of stopped bikes.

If you ever do "put your bike down" while you're moving, your two options are to stop suddenly or to skid. Both have their downsides. Stopping suddenly can lead to death (unless your bike is equipped with an airbag), while skidding can cause road rashes (unless you're wearing elbow pads and knee pads and some protective gloves).

"Sorry, I couldn't see anything because of my hood and I was running late to class!"

In my case, either the impact or my bike getting twisted up with the other person brought my bike down quickly and I slid down the street for what seemed like a while and I mangled my fingers and slid on my arms, elbows, and knees and somehow tore my pants at the hips and crushed my chest, while keeping my passenger (and the laptop I'm writing this on) protected. In hindsight, I should have leaned away from the ground as much as I could including taking my right hand off the handlebar.

I have advice for both cases. If you die, I'd love to hear from you - please leave a comment. If you get road rashes, after cleaning out the wounds (you should go to the hospital if you see bones or anything more than the first few layers of skin), you should apply generic Neosporin, which you should go find right now, before you ever need it, under the generic name of the 3 drugs it contains. What you find may include a topical anaesthetic as a bonus. It's actually quite hard to find so you want to have it on hand before you get into an accident. If you get nothing else from reading this post, just go out and buy a bunch of bottles of that stuff and give them away to your friends and loved ones.

Face it, Saigon is a hot and dirty city. You want to keep the wound moist, but not sweaty. Once you venture out you'll see how many different ways that germs could get into your wound from the dust blowing in the air off the street. You'll stare at all the people nearby not washing their hands, sneezing and coughing at you. You might think how if there was another plague we would be so screwed.

General hygiene aside, if you do get a road rash, expect it to hurt fairly constantly for a few days. This is where basic painkillers like ibuprofen (ibu in "Vietnamese") and topical analgesics help a lot. Until they scab over, try to not let the wounds get infected.

I just wrote about how to ride a motorbike. It's not hard but fairly necessary in Saigon, but that also means you're sharing the road with a lot of people who shouldn't be on motorbikes (or cars). Until Vietnam starts taking public transportation seriously though you will have to choose whether to take the risks in choosing how you want to join and be a part of Vietnamese traffic.

Peter John (not verified)

I think the major reason behind the majority of motorbike accidents is due to over speeding and this write-up really gave a clear picture about the scenario of motor accidents that took place recently in Vietnam. I request all to use helmets and other safety elements before riding motorbikes and please drive safely. Best wishes! http://windowssupportnow.com

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <h2> <h3> <h4> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <div> <pre>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You can enable syntax highlighting of source code with the following tags: <code>, <blockcode>, <c>, <cpp>, <drupal5>, <drupal6>, <java>, <javascript>, <php>, <python>, <ruby>. The supported tag styles are: <foo>, [foo].
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.
© 2010-2014 Saigonist.