26 October 2015

"Because we don't want the police to stop us"

That is the answer I get EVERY TIME I ask a native Vietnamese, no matter what age, when I ask why he/she wears a motorbike helmet...

"Because we don't want the police to stop us."


"Because the police will make us pay a fine (i.e. 'gift')."

Nothing about safety or protecting their brain case or that it will protect their intelligence.


Which is, in part, why you see many Vietnamese wearing bicycle "helmets";
1) Std. bicycle helmet; 2) Worse really cheap foam cup "helmet"; 3) The average VN helmet
riding with chin straps are either unfastened;

so loose that can be slipped over their chin for easy removal—especially as they fall off the bike;

Or on top of a hat so that it, again, may come off just after the rider does.

I included this photo mainly so you could see the other guy's wheelbarrow
Note the "protective" footwear favored by many

Part of my self-assigned work here is ensuring as many kids as possible have a chance at a future in which they are NOT constantly drooling as their head lolls around uncontrollably. Part of it is helping as many adults as possible understand that the helmets are for their protection and keeping the policeman's hand out of their pocket is a bonus.

One of the reasons there are so many poor quality helmets is that the shops that sell VN government-approved helmets also sell the crap. According to published reports of interviews with shop owners, their defense (remember that there are no personal injury attorneys and few enforced liability laws here) is that:

  1. People want to buy them
  2. It's not my fault if someone wears it in place of an approved helmet
  3. If I don't sell them, other shops will get my profit
That same mentality allows this shop owner in Saigon to use a heavy metal rod to pre-deform the helmet lining so that it fits a customer a little better.
He is also pretty much guaranteeing that the little protection the helmet provided when new is now zero protection—and knows he's doing wrong because he refused to allow me to take a photo of him doing it. I waited 'til he wasn't watching me before snapping the above shot.

There may also be pluggable holes in the helmet laws, though I think it's more likely an enforcement problem—the police don't stop the bicycle/inferior helmet wearers because they figure, "if the rider can't afford a proper helmet, I'm wasting my time looking for a 'gift'."

EVERY ride, whether it's on the 125cc scooter or one of my 400cc motorcycles, I wear a full-face helmet. Yesterday afternoon I carried one of my three as I walked the 100 meters to the shop where I get them (the bikes) washed. After paying the recently increased price of 40,000VND (~US$1.80) for a thorough cleaning, I donned my protection (we're talking HELMETS here ;-) and rode 100 meters home.

Yes, I get looks from the locals. So?

Hell, I've even had a couple pinhead ex-pats ask since I'm in Vietnam, why don't I wear a Vietnamese-style helmet? They always add, "I do." My internal voice quotes friend Mike W, "If you have a $10 brain, wear a $10 helmet" while my external voice says, "Because when I go off the bike at a given speed, it's the same impact on the tarmac whether I'm in VN or America or Australia and (to quote another rider whose name I forget) "I don't want to have to re-learn the alphabet." In taking the conversation further, I get that they think that because the speeds are lower here, a "good" helmet is not needed... proving Mike W's words true.

There's at least one Brit ex-pat here, close to my age, whom I see regularly at my favorite Western-food restaurant. He rides a very powerful bike that, according to everyone who knows him who's brought it up, is WAY over his riding ability. Guess what kind of helmet he wears? Close... he sports a slightly improved, open face version of the standard VN helmet. When he goes off hard onto his head, I just hope he doesn't suffer and that it's a quick death.

My and I rode the 300km to Saigon last week on my cruiser. Before we left, we had a lengthy discussion about why I wanted her to wear a full-face helmet in place of one of the Protec helmets I bought her. I reminded her that the roads are a LOT rougher and the traffic is a LOT scarier between here and Saigon than it is in-town AND that I would ideally like here to wear a full-face helmet all of the time... and which, though I won't tell her this, I know is NOT going to happen.

Since she's never gone off a bike at any appreciable speed, she chooses to not acknowledge what can happen to one's face in an open-face helmet. She's seen the photo of the helmet I was wearing in August when I slid on my chin on the gravel:

I think she also understands that had I been wearing an open-face helmet, my jaw would still be wired shut, and I'd be drinking my nourishment through a straw and scheduling serious reconstructive surgery.

She's heard me say many times that, if she falls off the bike onto her face, she will be "không đẹp" (not pretty) any more... and she still resists strenuously. It finally came down to a compromise: she wore the full-face helmet and got to ride with me to Saigon. We also agreed that any trip to another town/city merits the full-face helmet. It's the best I can do for now, though I'm far from giving up.

While riding on the bike with me, you're my responsibility and I get to decide if your helmet offers an acceptable level of protection. If that's a problem, there are plenty of other transportation options from any Point A to any Point B...

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