Former director of Helsinki Police Traffic Safety Unit , Mr. Heikki Seppä, is now working as a consultant in Vietnam`s Road Safety Project. A five-week assignment will soon be over, but Seppä is already looking forward to a new journey to Vietnam later this spring.
The kindness and the entrepreneurial spiritof the Vietnamese people have made an impression on Seppä. The Vietnamese people are wonderful colleagues, he says, and adds with a little twinkle in his eye: “Here in Vietnam older people are appreciated and the pensioners are not treated like some annoying additional costs.”
There is a lot of work to be done in the field of road safety in Vietnam, but all the chances of success are there. Attitude towards the traffic is different than it is in Finland, but there are also similarities. Traffic Safety Law is new and the Vietnamese understand the need for improvements in road safety. There would be approximately 1.5 to 2,000,000 superficial crashes per year, if the statistical method would be the same as in Finland. During the week-long Vietnamese Lunar New Year holiday period about 300 people were killed in traffic accidents.
This adds up to roughly as much as in Finland throughout the year and the costs were also similar.Seppä finds also advantages in the Vietnamese traffic culture. At first glance, traffic seems aggressive, but in reality it is not. People often help one another and it is quite common that there is no need to involve the police in the settlement of situations. Seppä had seen a situation in which two motorcyclists collided, while one of them was coming from behind the red light. “After the crash they were collecting motorcycle parts in good spirit and helping one another “, Seppä smiles.
In Finland people tend to respect the law and hold on tight to their own rights. In Vietnam traffic is flows peacefully and people tend to make space for one another. Mutual agreeing and reconciliation are things that Finns could learn from Vietnamese. Unfortunately such things are pretty hard to install afterwards in to a culture, where people tend to hold on tight to their own rights. Traffic culture in Vietnam seems to be a mixture of common practices and law. For foreigners who are not accustomed toVietnamese traffic rules, such a culture is dangerous. To be able to act correctly in the traffic, one should be familiar with the Vietnamese customs.
In Vietnam the police are visibly present and active. Seatbelt and helmet use is supervised, but when it comes to drunk-driving or speeding, the lack of efficient equipment makes monitoring more difficult and a rapid diagnostic tests for drunk-driving offense are often not even a possibility.
Seppä believes that road safety is a “product” that should be exported from Finland. The level of research in this field is high, the police have good language skills, equipment is good and most importantly, the police enjoy public confidence. For us the dark years of road safety are behind us, but there was such a time also in Finland when the rapid growth of traffic took us by surprise. Even the highest national leadership took a strong initiative and demanded improvements in traffic safety.
In Vietnam too, the government should also consider itinitiating a comprehensive plan to improve road safety, small individual actions are not enough, the change must be a comprehensive one. However, Seppä believes that Vietnam is already on its way towards a different kind of traffic culture. He suspects though that to complete the change in people`s behavioral patterns, it will take at least a couple of generations.