by Le Vinh Hoa
HA NOI Bui Minh Ha has held a driver s licence since last January. While she passed her test with a perfect score, she has never actually driven on the road by herself.
"The first day after I received my licence, my brother took me into the back streets to practice. I became so terrified when surrounded by buses, taxis, motorbikes and other cars that I couldn t even make the car move at all. I was never taught to deal with such situations at driving school," Ha said.
Ha is not the only one who can t get used to driving even though she has a licence. Nguyen Minh Thuy who lives in Doi Can, Ha Noi, passed her driving test last month.
She said: "Since getting my licence, I have practised driving for a month, but I still don t feel comfortable by myself. I need more practice." Thuy said she passed the exam by focusing on the tricks taught to her by her tutor.
There is a student boom at driving schools. In 2009, the Ministry of Transport issued 56,383 drivers licences, almost double that in 2007.
This has led to a rush of learners, which is the main reasons so many courses are unsatisfactory. Ha practised with a teacher for a total of only 12 hours before she was officially qualified to take to the roads.
The length of driving courses is gradually shortening. In 2008, they took up to five months, but in 2009, only three to about four months.
Nguyen Van Quyen, deputy head of Viet Nam Road Department, admitted the length of courses was too short. "The courses can only help people to formulate some driving skills, but those skills are not strong and need more practice," Quyen said.
Extra costs associated with tests frustrate many drivers. "Besides the course fee, I had to pay many other fees, including VND200,000 (US$11) to get a good car for the test," said Thuy.
While the rip-offs associated with driving tests are well known among would-be drivers, relevant authorities claim to know nothing about the practice. Nguyen Huy Cuong, a Ministry of Transport inspector, said inspectors would often make a sudden visit to testing centres. "We sometimes see staff helping people with their written test, but we never see people giving teachers money," he said.
Quyen, deputy head of the road department, said: "I know this is happening, but we have never received any official reports."
According to Than Trong Thanh, head of the National Traffic Safety Committee, poorly trained drivers were at high risk of being involved in traffic accidents. Last year, more than 10,000 people were killed in 11,000 traffic accidents throughout Viet Nam. (In Australia, which has about 20 million people, only about 300 people were killed on roads in the same period).
In Viet Nam, in Ha Noi in particular, many drivers appear to have absolutely no knowledge of road rules. They wander all over the roads, stopping whenever and wherever they feel like. They appear out of side streets without ever looking at oncoming traffic, they race through red lights, and regularly drive against oncoming traffic on one-way lanes.
But in the US, for example, simply making a pedestrian move his foot back onto the footpath at a crossing is a sufficient reason to fail a driving test. Not knowing, or respecting, the many road rules means automatic disqualification. Many drivers in Viet Nam seem to lack this basic training, this basic care and respect for other people s safety. VNS