I’ll admit it straight away – I am part of the Thao Dien bubble. I love living in District 2 and being minutes away from two climbing walls, Home Yoga Saigon, great food and beer, and diverse families of expatriates. I work in another foreigner-heavy district – Phu My Hung – and enjoy the wide streets, little pockets of Korea, and the space that has yet to be filled with people. However, I have noticed a disturbing trend among expat parents on their motorbikes and I need to ask a serious question: where are the helmets?
There are approximately 43 million motorbikes in Vietnam today. This year alone, 175,000 more cars were allowed on the roads. There is no way of counting the total number of vehicles in Vietnam including busses, small trucks, and semi-trucks, but we can see the amount growing daily. Unfortunately, more vehicles mean more danger.
According to the National Traffic Safety Committee in Vietnam, around 24 people die each day due to traffic accidents, with an even higher number affected by brain damage and other serious injuries. The World Health Organization estimates that road injuries are the number one cause of death for those aged 15-49.
In December of 2007, wearing helmets on motorbikes became mandatory and fines were levied at those who broke the law. Initial results seemed promising – in Ho Chi Minh City, serious traffic injuries fell by almost 50%. However, in many neighborhoods the laws seem to have relaxed, for both Vietnamese and foreigners. Even without the threat of police intervention, I believe all parents and teachers can agree that road safety is in our children’s best interest.
It is important to teach children the importance of wearing a helmet from their very first ride on a bicycle or motorbike. Children must also be taught to remain alert on the road – it is vital that children behave in predictable ways when they are passengers.
If a child cannot hold themselves up or sit still, they are not ready to ride. It is also important to protect children from pollution by making sure they wear a mask. Children breathe more air per pound of body weight, and so their exposure to air pollution is much greater than adults.
We all want our children to stay safe. The sad fact is, we are never truly safe on the road, even if we do everything correctly. Insurance company surveys have shown that around one in three traffic accidents occur less than a mile from home. This means we should be more diligent in our own neighborhoods, not less. This is not fear-baiting or pointless paranoia – there are simply far too many risks involved to justify even a few minutes of careless driving with our children.
Shannon Brown is a head teacher at Little Genius International Kindergarten with a Master’s in Public Health. She cultivates healthy living by practicing yoga and rock climbing and has been living and teaching in HCM since 2014.