Near Tragedy On A Vietnamese Highway

I heard the crash and saw debris fly off the left side of our big tour bus – a motorcycle and its rider!  We were driving down Vietnam’s highway 1 from Tuy Hoa to Quang Ngai City when tragedy struck. When you visit Vietnam one of the things that strikes you immediately is the traffic and the way people drive.  They don’t pay attention to things like speed limits or even lanes, even on the busy two lane highway.  In order to pass, you are forced to drive in the oncoming lane and hope you can get back into your lane before traffic reaches you.  There have been numerous times we would all wince and catch our breath as our bus swerved from lane to lane barely avoiding a crash.  This time it was not our driver’s fault.  The motorcyclist had crossed over into our lane and hit us, his bike scraping along the side of the bus almost the entire length when he finally lost control and went skidding across the road.  If he had been a few centimeters closer he likely would have fallen under our wheels, as it is, he narrowly missed being run over by traffic following him.  Our guides and driver and the driver’s assistant rushed to the scene as we all looked on in horror.  The motorcyclist wasn’t moving and we feared the worst.  The driver’s assistant stopped a truck, loaded him on and rushed him to hospital in the next town, about 5 minutes away.  Of course there is always speculation when something like this happens, but it appears he had been impaired when he hit us (that was the word from the driver’s assistant who was with him). Still we had to wait before the police arrived to investigate, our driver appeared to be in utter shock.  We worried about what might happen to him, would he be arrested? Charged? Would he lose his job? There were few answers.  Police arrived and took measurements of the scene, and while this was all going on, big trucks continued to speed past us with their horns blaring dodging motorcycles and scooters.  We also attracted a large crowd of rubberneckers, locals running over to see what had happened.  After checking out the scene, they turned their attention to us;  a group of mud covered cyclists, obviously not local… paying special attention to the women in their cycle shorts.  We stayed on the bus for several minutes, but gradually began wandering off to see what happened.  We were all in shock and concerned for the man injured but also for the mental state of our driver, his face registering everything that had just happened.  Our guides were still concerned about us and had called ahead to the hotel immediately, which dispatched a couple of mini-buses to come and pick us up.  It would take them about 3 hours to reach us and then about that long again to get to the hotel.  Our last concern was for our own comfort, but this was going to be a long night.   We also had to take all of our stuff off the bus so police could take it away as evidence.  We began unloading all of our bags and moved them into a roadside restaurant where we were parked, but immediately a man we assume was the manager started yelling at us, pushed Paula and told us to get out, to put our bags outside.  So we did that, putting everything under a rusted out awning to protect it from the rain, and then we sat down, dirty and wet from our ride and still a little shell shocked from the accident.  Some of the group passed the time by playing a card/word game while the rest of us just sat around, waiting.  We were told our driver would have to go to the police station and would likely face heavy fines.  Even though it was obvious this wasn’t his fault, we were told that in Vietnam, the bigger vehicle is considered liable and pays the penalties.  We all passed the hat and chipped in what we could to help him out, it was the first time we had seen him smile since this drama began.  The mini buses finally arrived, almost 4 hours later and we split off into two groups and began the long drive to our hotel, more nervous than ever to be driving in this dangerous traffic, and wishing the buses had come equipped with seat belts.  We later learned the motorcyclist had survived and had been rushed to another hospital where he could undergo x-rays and treatment.   Hopefully he would be alright, and our driver would still have his job after this.  I’ll let you know if there are any updates.

So just how bad is the traffic situation in Vietnam?  Well the latest figures from 2007 indicate there were 12,980 fatalities on Vietnamese roads, in a country of about 90 million people.   In 2009 there were just under 33,808 fatalities on roads in the USA, a country of about 350 million people.  And in Canada in 2006, there were 2889 deaths on the roads, 218 of those motorcyclists, a country of about 32 million people.

PS… Jan 28,2011 – we recieved an update on the accident.  The motorcyclist is ‘okay’ and will be released from hospital.  That doesn’t necessarily mean he is better, it could just mean they have stabilized him enough to send him home if he doesn’t have the money to pay for his care.  Our bus driver and the bus were held at the police station for about 24 hours for the investigation, but both have been released.  There were no charges, but our driver did have to pay some fines.

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  1. Cycling Through Vietnam | RTW - March 12

    […] the bus we were involved in a serious accident with a motorcyclist, you can read all about that, here.   When we finally arrived at the hotel, about 8 hours after first boarding our bus, we really […]

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