Vietnam’s tough drunk driving law gets the ‘tough’ going

By Ba Do   December 29, 2020 | 06:34 am PT
Vietnam’s tough drunk driving law gets the ‘tough’ going
A police officer has a truck driver breathe into a breathalyzer on the Hanoi-Hai Phong expressway, December 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ba Do.
With over 185,000 drunk drivers subjected to heavier punishments in 2020, traffic cops are noticing improved driving attitudes on Vietnamese roads.

Increasing numbers of drivers across the country are taking the decision of not driving after drinking, a practice that was common place for decades.

It was drizzling and a cold wind was blowing through the northern province of Hung Yen, but traffic police officers at the Hanoi-Hai Phong expressway toll booth were still stopping vehicles and check alcohol levels in drivers.

After checking about 100 cars in two hours on December 22, they found a male driver in his Kia Morning car with flushed cheeks and wobbly legs. The man repeatedly claimed he was healthy, but refused to breathe into the breathalyzer. When he finally relented after the police requested him many times, he blew so faintly that the device could not perform its function.

It was only after the cops scared him with a VND40 million ($1,730) fine and suspension of his license for two years that he agreed to breathe properly into the breathalyzer.

His alcohol level was 0.35 mg/l, meaning he would have his car seized for seven days, be fined VND7.5 million and have his license taken for 11 months.

The same day, traffic cops at a Phap Van-Cau Gie highway toll booth also stopped hundreds of cars. The details of those who were checked were recorded and filed.

Pham Manh Duoc, driving a 16-seat van from the northern province of Nam Dinh, said it was the third time this year he’d been stopped for an alcohol level check.

"But it has not bothered me because when the police punish violations strictly, drivers would be deterred from making more violations and traffic would become safer," he said.

Close to a year after Vietnam’s new law against drunk driving took effect, traffic police officers say drivers’ attitude on the road has improved.

"When the punishments got harsher, the violations reduced. There have been weekdays when we checked thousands of vehicles without finding a single case of drunk driving. Typically, it is the weekends, festivals and other holiday breaks that trigger drunk driving," said Trinh Quang Khanh, head of a traffic police squad.

The Law on Preventing Alcohol's Harmful Effects, which took effect January 1, doubled penalties for violations.

The new law punishes the mere presence of alcohol in one's system. Fines could go up to VND40 million for car drivers and VND8 million for motorbike riders.

"The most severe punishments, which include fines of up to VND40 million and taking away driving licenses for nearly two years, severely affect drivers’ finances, making them reconsider the consumption of alcoholic drinks before driving," said Do Thanh Binh, deputy head of the traffic police department of the Transport Ministry.

Since the law took effect, over 185,000 drivers have been caught violating its provisions, an increase of 2,500 cases from 2019, according to the department.

"At the beginning of the year, traffic police officers nationwide ramped up efforts to punish alcohol level violations for several months, and the number of detected violations increased over 2019. However, as implementation of the law continued, it has proven effective, with the number of similar violations decreasing towards the end of the year," Binh said.

However, he added, there are still those who violate the law repeatedly, those who disobey the police and even attack them.

Therefore, traffic police officers would continue to ramp up efforts to punish drunk driving violations in the coming days, including the upcoming Lunar New Year season, Binh said.

But simple punishments alone would not be enough to deter drunk driving; authorities would also need to restrict alcohol advertisements and not allow citizens, especially the youth, to purchase alcohol very easily, he added.

Alcohol, especially beer, is widely consumed in Vietnam. Data collected by the Ministry of Health shows Vietnamese citizens consumed 305 million liters of liquor and 4.1 billion liters of beer in 2017, making it the biggest alcohol consumer in Southeast Asia and third biggest in Asia after Japan and China.

The country spends an average $3.4 billion on alcohol each year, or 3 percent of the government’s budget revenue, according to official data. The figure translates to $300 per person while spending on related health problems averages $113 per person, according to the Ministry of Health.

The World Health Organization had reported earlier that 40 percent of traffic accidents in Vietnam are linked to excessive drinking.

Police officers stop drivers on the Phap Van-Cau Giay and the Hanoi-Hai Phong highways to check their alcohol levels, December 2020. Video by VnExpress/Phuong Son.

go to top