Saturday, February 21, 2009


The billboard on Kim Ma street is rather ominous.  The grand billboard with electric displays lists Hanoi traffic accident and fatality statistics.

As I was roaring past today, the statistics were enough to release the twist of my hand on the handle accelerator.  Number of traffic accidents yesterday: 1.  Number of traffic fatalities: 1.  Most of the time when I make the daily turn from Kim Ma street to Lieu Giai, on my way home from work, I send a passing glance to the board.  0 traffic accidents yesterday.  I send an exasperated, whew, in the midst of the roar of traffic.  Right before I swerve around the city bus.  

156 accidents thus far this year.
142 traffic fatalities thus far this year.

What actually constitutes a traffic fatality?  I was left pondering the meaning of this english translation until I inquired.  Death.  142 people have died so far this year from traffic accidents.  Fortunately I haven't seen any terrible accidents yet or dead bodies sprawled on the street.  

Of course there are the fender benders.  Luckily the most damage that I have incurred thus far is cracking the hard white plastic covering of my old Honda Dream when I toppled over in the FPT University parking lot.  Needless to say, maneuvering the bike in small spaces is one of the harder parts of driving.  Most bikes are expertly parked in tight rows outside storefronts and looked after by an attendant.  Most of the time, the attendant hands you a numbered ticket before you park the bike which you must produce along with 2,000 or 3,000 Vietnamese dong ( about 30 cents) when you retrieve your bike later. 

Helmet laws are enforced and perhaps the pollution masks people wear when driving will become a future law.  The surgical looking mask drivers wear to protect against dust and exhaust fumes also serves as a fashion statement.  My cloth mask is a pink, blue, and green floral pattern.  

In terms of rules of the road, there aren't very many.  Or I should say there are rules such as traffic lights, roundabouts, and one-way streets but followed under your own digression.  The no man's land of the road are fairly busy intersections with no traffic signals.  These are best approached with caution and a heavy foot over the break.  Slow down for the tour bus to pass, swerve around the man slowly making his way across the street, speed up before the student on the bicycle collides with you.  

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