Elijah Ferrian delves into some facts about how to best protect your skull in the motorbike traffic of Saigon. Photo by Vinh Dao.

It’s no secret that although everyone must wear a helmet while driving motorbikes in Saigon, in accordance with the law, that not all helmets are created equal. We’ve all been on the back of a xe om with a hunk of plastic and styrofoam clipped to our noggins that wouldn’t be more than extra rubbish to be swept off of the street after any serious collision.

We’ve all either been party to, or witnessed an accident, so we understand how serious this matter is.

I’ve decided to defer to an expert on the matter of helmet use in Ho Chi Minh City, Pat Joynt. He’s been owner and operator of Saigon Scooter Centre since 1997, and is a virtual encyclopaedia on the subject.

Why do people absolutely need to wear helmets while driving in Saigon?

First, it’s the law. Riding any motorcycle or scooter involves an element of risk. The basic principal of any helmet is its ability to absorb the impact of any collision, and therefore protect the brain which is the major cause of fatalities and long-term disabilities. Most insurance policies will not cover you unless you are riding “within the legal limits of the local law”.

What’s with the plastic helmets that are predominant, useless, and potentially adding to the danger of a collision?

The budget helmets which are flooding the market here are very low-grade, cheaply manufactured plastic helmets. They offer no protection, and in fact, a cheap helmet is worse than no helmet on many occasions – as they will just shatter on impact. Shoei helmets had a great advertising campaign in the 70’s: “A five dollar helmet for a five-dollar brain”. That about sums it up.

How to best protect children while riding? Seeing that many folks don’t seem to have their children even wearing a helmet...

Make them wear a helmet. Kids are not exempt from wearing helmets in Vietnam! The law is that children above six-years-old must wear a crash helmet at all times. Children should be at the top of the list, the first category of people that are educated in road safety. The sooner you teach children about the serious nature of being safe while driving, the sooner the whole culture can improve as a whole.

For some reason, a lot of misconceptions about whether helmets are good or not for children’s safety was based on a “study” that stated that helmets can cause backbone and spinal damage to young kids. However, this was studied on many occasions overseas over recent years, and was found to be completely untrue.

It should always be a parental responsibility to make sure that kids are equipped with a good-quality helmet. Additional weight from quality helmets will also offer much more protection than the cheaper options, and after the initial discomfort most kids quickly get used to wearing them.

Figures aren’t easy to come by, but judging by how many motorbikes, motorcycles, and various other unenclosed driving apparatuses flood the streets of Saigon, there’s got to be a decent rate of casualties from collisions.

There are very few stats around, but the last figures I saw were in 2013 with over 12,000 official motorcycle road related deaths. A major hospital over any weekend will have plenty of people being admitted for various head trauma. That’s just something that is going to happen no matter what. The point is that a lot of these serious injuries can be preventable with the right protection, and the adequate education.

Where are the best places for people to get helmets around the city, and what marks the signs of a good piece of equipment?

There are literally hundreds of shops selling helmets these days from Vietnamese manufactured, to other Asian imports, all the way up to top-of-the-range European imported helmets.

A good quality helmet should be lightweight, comfortable and tough. Comfort is a major issue as there are also two impact zones in a collision: the helmet coming into contact with the road, and the brain inside of the helmet. With a good, quality helmet there are a number of impact layers within the helmet, in addition to a quality outer-shell. Better quality helmets are manufactured using fibreglass, kevlar and carbon fibre.

Full-face helmets will offer the best protection, but obviously the downside is living in the tropics and dealing with the heat. Another factor here, with the chaotic traffic, is that open face offers better visibility than a more restrictive full-face helmet does. Most buyers prefer open-face styles, which are both lighter and cooler, although the modular and flip-front style helmets are also becoming more popular.

Also, consider the visor option, which is good for the rainy season and insects, etcetera. These should be scratch-proof. Removable linings are also recommended so they can be washed. A comfortable fit is essential, not only for your comfort, but for the safest helmet possible. The helmet should be ‘snug’, but not tight, and certainly not too loose. A quality clasp or locking mechanism is also of utmost importance to stop the helmet from coming off in the event of an impact.

International safety marks are a must for a properly safe helmet. These include: British Standards, Snell, DOT and a number of other well known European marks including ECE 22.05.

Feel free to check out Saigon Scooter Centre at 77a Hanoi Highway, District 2, or catch up with them online at: saigonscootercentre.com.