In Vietnam, motorcycles outnumber cars 16 to 1. They’re cheap, easy to maintain, and overwhelmingly practical for city-dwellers and rural folk alike. Compared with a more developed, classically car-centric country like the UK, where cars outnumber motorcycles 23 to 1, the supremacy of bikes in Vietnam is clear. 
In 2010, there were roughly 21 million registered mopeds and motorbikes on the road. As of 2020, that number has risen to over 65 million. The two-wheeler economy expands year on year, and given the consistent delays in completing public transport projects in larger urban areas, such as the metro system in Ho Chi Minh City, the numbers will continue to rise. 
This saturation of riders increases the risk of road accidents, which almost always involve multiple fatalities. In Binh Duong back in October 2022, a motorcycle carrying four people was hit by a truck. None survived. On March 15th, 2023, a similar incident in Ca Mau killed two people. Such cases occur daily.
With its free-for-all ethos, the near-total vacuum of road regulation creates capable, if inadequately trained, drivers. In combination with the absence of oversight given the non-existent police presence, the anarchic motorised ecosystem effectively maintains itself under the pressure of its own mass. At times, it feels manageable. At others, chaotically functional. But it never, ever feels safe. 
For pedestrians, it's a constant challenge of expecting the unexpected. Bikes cut corners without warning or apology. Traffic lights are routinely ignored. Crosswalks may as well be drawn in chalk. Even the pavement gets usurped when the traffic is bad. The bikes set the pace; everyone else is merely tolerated. 
But the most worrying aspect of the moped culture in Vietnam is the abundance of infants on the road. It is commonplace to see babies and small children cruising along the highway perched on the steering column or hanging casually off the back seat. 
The cause is economic. For many low-income households, the moped is the family vehicle, and so the whole family travels on it together. But what briefly passes for an intriguing phenomenon quickly morphs into a systemic issue. It would be wrong to label it as a cultural quirk or a difference in mentality. It should be called what it is: child endangerment. Of the four people killed in the Binh Duong crash, two were small children.
In countries with adequate regulation, the police will stop drivers if they suspect children in the vehicle aren’t wearing seatbelts. In 2022 in Germany, a country known for its strict adherence to road law, deaths by road accident amounted to just over 2,700. But in Vietnam, over 6,300 people reportedly lost their lives in road accidents that same year. It should be noted: transparency in this area is not assured and the latter figures may suffer from underreporting. While the statistics do show a consistent – albeit gradual – reduction in incidents over the last decade, death by road accident remains the highest cause of fatalities in Vietnam. 
In a country where mopeds are the most affordable and logistically sound mode of transport for the majority of the population, a total reform of the transport culture is unlikely to occur any time soon. But the unregulated transportation of children is an issue which, if left to fester, may soon become irreparably rationalised within the transportation ecosystem. If it hasn’t already. 
Back to Top