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Fatal mishaps prompt Vietnamese province to curb traffic violations by foreigners

Foreign tourists prepare to hit the road on motorbikes in Quan Ba District in Ha Giang Province.
Foreign tourists prepare to hit the road on motorbikes in Quan Ba District in Ha Giang Province.

A spate of fatal accidents is pushing Ha Giang Province to clamp down on traffic violations by foreigners.
Local authorities in the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang have issued a document asking local police to increase the fluency of patrols and deal strictly with traffic violations by foreigners.

In particular, tighter control will be exerted on motorbike rental services, as foreign visitors currently can hire motorbikes without showing their driving licenses.

The crackdown on traffic violations by foreigners comes after several visitors have died in road accidents in the province, considered one of the most beautiful places in the country, with its terraced fields, vast flowering areas and rich ethnic minority culture.

In the most recent accident, a Spanish man and a French woman died last Monday after their motorbike collided with a truck trailer traveling on a national highway.

Two days earlier, a French national succumbed to heavy injuries following a crash between his motorbike and a mini bus. In November, last year, a Spanish traveler died after driving his motorbike off a cliff in Ha Giang.

Poor traffic awareness

Hoang Anh Duc, a senior traffic police officer in Ha Giang, said most foreign visitors to the mountainous province opt to hire a motorbike to cross twisting, dangerous roads in Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac Districts.

Several foreigners have been seen driving at high speed, breaking red lights, not wearing helmets and failing to show driving licenses.

These violations become dangerous in Ha Giang, famous for narrow, twisting roads and dangerous mountain passes that challenge even the most seasoned motorbike drivers.

So far this year, around 20 foreign tourists have been stopped by traffic police for driving motorbikes without driving licenses, local police said.

However, language barriers have hampered police’s efforts to deal with the traffic violations, because they are unable to communicate with the foreigners. Therefore, punishments are not strictly enforced.

A local driver who wanted to remain anonymous said that foreigners always drove at very fast speeds on mountainous roads and tough trails in Ha Giang though they are not familiar with the terrain.

“I have many years of experience in driving but I still do not dare to drive fast on mountainous roads because accidents can happen very easily,” he said.

Lax management

The tourism boom that has happened in Ha Giang in recent years has seen many motorbike rental services spring up in the province.

It is estimated that there are around 43 motorbike rental facilities with a total of 842 motorbikes. As elsewhere in the country, foreign tourists only need to leave their passports and pay around VND150,000 ($6.47) per day for renting the bikes. They are not required to show driving licenses.

While local authorities have issued fines on motorbike rental facilities for handing over motorbikes to those without driving licenses, the situation has not improved much.

Road crashes are a leading cause of deaths in Vietnam, killing almost one person every hour. More than 9,000 traffic accidents occurred in the first half of this year, killing nearly 4,100 people and injuring over 7,000, according to the National Traffic Safety Committee.