Drinking and driving don’t go together, period

By Hoang Minh Tri   June 3, 2019 | 11:09 pm PT
If you drink, don’t drive. If you drive, don’t drink. How many tragedies do we need to realize the obvious?
Hoang Minh Tri

Hoang Minh Tri

My mother told me I was born prematurely on a summer day in 1979, seven months into her pregnancy.

The previous night, she’d been hit by a drunkard on a bicycle by the Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.

This stayed with me for my entire childhood. I still remember the wintery nights, my head in her lap, asking her if she was in pain, why that guy hit her or if she was sad because I was a sickly child. For a long time, I would keep my distance from pregnant women whenever I went out. I was afraid I would hurt them somehow, that their children would also be born prematurely and suffer from a childhood with stunted growth, severe headaches and incessant trips to the hospital like I did. Even when I became an adult and got my own motorbike and car, that irrational fear still lurked somewhere in the crevices of my mind.

Drunk drivers are no strangers on the streets of Vietnam. The men in this country somehow firmly believe in their alcohol tolerance, no matter how much they drink. Even when they can barely walk in a straight line after a night at the bar, they don’t hesitate to jump on their vehicles and make their way on the streets. One, then two, then three nights, and it becomes a habit. They become so adept at drunk driving that it’s hard to know nowadays whether someone is intoxicated or not on a motorbike.

And it’s not only their unfounded confidence in their alcohol tolerance that’s a problem, but also their ‘pride’ as men. In fact, it is the very belief that a man is only worthy if he holds his liquor well that has bred a confidence that is actually arrogance. In holding on to their macho manhood, they risk the lives of innocent people on the streets.

Last month, people were outraged about the death of a street cleaner in Hanoi in a hit-and-run accident by a drunk driver. The heartbreaking picture of her colleagues mourning beside her body was carried by several local newspapers.

Parents and teachers drum up this prejudice that street cleaning is a lowly job reserved for those who lack an education. But on that night, it was a loving mother of two children that left this world forever. And people started to realize a simple and obvious fact, that she was another human being like any of us, that she did what she could to raise her kids, and that her two children are now orphaned. All because someone decided to drive while drunk.

The drunk drivers may eventually pay for their actions, but no compensation can bring back the dead. Once their consciousness is sedated by alcohol, drunk drivers forget that their decisions can forever take lives and shatter families. The blame cannot be laid on alcohol. The drivers are responsible.

I used to live in Dublin, Ireland which is world famous for bars and pubs. In front of each bar would be a straight, white line painted on the street. At the end of the day, customers had to walk on that line; whoever staggered would be forced to take a cab home. There are no parking spaces for cars near Irish bars, and police officers regularly patrol the streets during the winter to look for drunks falling asleep in the cold. Most importantly, Ireland has very strict punishments for drunk driving, including jail time.

This does not happen in Vietnam.

Perhaps it is time we take a long, hard look at this problem. All the scary stories, the legal punishments and the preaching are apparently not enough.

What we need is a clear and radical shift in the mindset of the people: If you drink, don’t drive; if you drive, don’t drink.

It is that simple. And if we understand this simple fact, that street cleaner’s tragic story might be the last. All of us will feel safer on the street.

*Hoang Minh Tri is a Vietnamese journalist living in Hanoi. The opinions expressed are his own.

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