'Street ninja' armor exposes women to traffic dangers

By Pham Nga   July 25, 2022 | 09:30 pm PT
Thu Quynh always puts on sunscreen, a strapless garment around her legs, sunglasses, long gloves and a mask before driving her motorbike to work.

On her five-kilometer daily commute to work, the sun is the biggest enemy.

Though she has applied sunscreen, the 25-year-old office worker always wears a piece of clothing akin to a kitchen apron to cover her legs when she steps out into the street.

All the sun protection gear has some drawbacks, Quynh admits. Sometimes, she hears a honk but cannot see anything because the hood she wears blocks her vision on both sides.

Since she is near-sighted, wearing sunglasses makes it difficult for her to see clearly in the rear-view mirrors, too.

A female motorist wearing sun protective gear waits at a red light on Hanois Nguyen Chanh Street on July 12, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

A female motorist wearing sun protective gear waits at a red light on Hanoi's Nguyen Chanh Street on July 12, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Similarly armed against the sun, Hoang Thi Hoa of Ho Chi Minh City's District 1 ended up injuring herself badly when the long tunic she wears as protection from the sun got caught in her rear wheel.

She was driving on an empty road on a summer day in 2019 when she was suddenly yanked backward. She fell and hit her head on the road.

"I only realized what had happened after hearing passersby shouting to each other to cut the tunic from the motorbike wheel," the 32-year-old recalled.

Women driving two-wheel vehicles covered from head to toe like Quynh and Hoa are dubbed ‘street ninjas.’

Face masks, hoodies, sunglasses, gloves and tunics have become indispensable parts of their driving attire for most women who don’t want an inch of their fair skin blemished by the sun.

However this extreme protection has actually caused numerous accidents.

Dr Vu Anh Tuan, director of the Viet Duc Transport Research Center, said wearing these ninja outfits can impair reaction time on the road, increasing the risk of accidents.

"While in traffic, a driver must ensure good vision, hearing and reaction, and this must be taken into consideration when donning clothes, hats, glasses and other accessories," he said

Tran Quang Chinh, deputy chief of traffic police team No. 6 in Hanoi, said his division has handled six accidents caused by protective gear this summer alone.

"When the garment becomes entangled and a driver falls suddenly on a major road, large trucks and passenger vehicles could be passing by, and the accident could become a serious one."

He said he has personally seen a number of tragic accidents on highways caused by these ninja outfits.

Dash-cam footage of a 'street ninja' falling down on Hanoi's Le Quang Dao Street on July 4, 2022. Video provided by Tran Quang Chinh

In Nghe An Province, a woman riding in Nghi Loc District’s WHA industrial park on June 21 got her sun tunic entangled in a wheel, causing her motorbike to topple over and the garment to trap her hand around the handlebar.

In the central of Da Nang a few days earlier, police had to cut a girl’s tunic after it had become entangled in a wheel and trapped her hand against the handlebar. Her arm was broken.

Nguyen Thi Oanh, 28, of Thanh Hoa Province lost her sister in a road accident at the end of April.

"I was in pain but when I watched the CCTV, I understood the error was not by the other vehicle," she said.

Oanh's sister was wearing a sun-protective garment that covered her whole face and body, so visibility was limited.

As a car approached from behind and she frantically tried to turn left, she fell on the road because the garment inhibited her movements. Sadly she fell just as a coach drove by.

Following her sister's death, Oanh constantly warns her family members against wearing such sun protection gear while riding motorbikes.

"Now, when I see this protective garment flutter in the wind near a wheel, I call out and warn the wearer. Some people thank me while some give me strange looks."

Nguyen Duc Anh of Hanoi’s Hoai Duc District says he is afraid of the "street ninjas."

He says though he knows driving near them is not always the best choice and can be dangerous, he cannot avoid it because "there are ninjas everywhere in summer."

Fashion accessory

Nguyen Thi Binh, a saleswoman in a clothing shop in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District, says: "Sun protection garments are now a fashion accessory. A person can buy two or three pieces in different styles and materials to mix and match."

She sells seven to 10 of them a day at prices ranging from VND90,000 ($3.8) to above VND200,000 ($8.5).

Her customers base their purchases of such garments on their colors and designs, she said.

Because she is not asked, Binh does not usually tell customers that a garment is wide and could get tangled in the wheel or that another would hinder driving movements.

"The garments are already designed that way, so it is up to the users to wear it safely."

Tuan said he understood that women have a need to protect themselves from the sun. However he felt that when they were part of road traffic, they should dress in a way to ensure good observation of traffic situations and be able to see possible hazards in advance.

"People should avoid wearing flared clothing covering their ears and eyes. If they wear glasses, they should make sure they're of high quality so that they don't obstruct vision while driving," he said.

Traffic cop Chinh agreed, advising women to wear clothes that facilitate observation and movement.

"Do not let street ninja outfits to harm yourself or others," he said.

Even if the garment was not caught in the wheel, bending down to fix and adjust the garment in the middle of the road can cause the driver to lose control and fall on the road, he noted.

Thu Quynh said she has decided to give up sunglasses after a fall due to poor visibility, but could not give up on other accessories.

"Skin is very important for women, so we just have t be careful when driving with a sun protective garment," she said.

Meanwhile, Hoa said she has learnt her lesson. She wears long-sleeved pants to work and takes a skirt along to change into in the company restroom.

She said: "The scar reminds me not to wear sun protective garments anymore."

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