Vietnam is the biggest drinking country in Southeast Asia and third in Asia, after Japan and South Korea. In 2016, Vietnam’s beer consumption reached 3.78 billion litres (3.4 billion litres in 2015) — 42 litres per person per year, more than 4 litres up from 2015.
Like people elsewhere, Vietnamese people drink more during festive seasons, especially Tet when rice wine and beer are considered a necessity. Although Tet lasts no more than a week, its consequences might require months and even years to be resolved.
Late at night during Tet a few years ago, my brother got stabbed by a friend in a fight while drinking. Another brother rushed him to hospital while my mother was questioning the man who had done the stabbing. Different reasons were given but essentially it was because they were both drunk. My brother survived but had to wear an arm cast for more than six months. He is still drinking.
His was not the only case. According to the Ministry of Health, more than 5,000 people ended up in hospital because of drunken fighting during Tet last year. Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, An Giang, Kien Giang and Hanoi were the cities and provinces with the highest number of incidents.
Drinking is also the main reason behind the death toll increase last Tet. There were more than 2,200 cases of alcohol poisoning in the first three days of Tet, with one death, mainly because of consuming homemade rice wine.
More than 536 traffic accidents took place in eight days with 44,000 people rushed to hospital, including 224 fatalities and 5,400 recorded brain injuries. The four cities and provinces with the highest number of incidents were Ho Chi Minh City (2,141 cases), Hanoi (2,047), Kien Giang (1,611) and Dong Nai (1,507). Compared with Tet 2015, the number of injuries and deaths caused by traffic accidents in Tet 2016 fell by about 30%. It’s not enough.
What’s New in 2017?
None of my foreign friends would dare to drink drive when they go back home for Christmas or New Year, but they would do that in Vietnam.
This is despite the new traffic fines brought in last August. Drivers with alcohol levels exceeding 80mg per 100ml of blood or 0.4mg per litre of breath, or those who refuse to comply with an alcohol or drug test, are fined VND16 million to VND18 million (up from VND15 million) for car drivers and VND3 million to VND4 million for bikes. The authorities will confiscate driving licences for two years, and anyone caught driving without a licence will be fined the same as drunk drivers.
Even with the fine increased to VND18 million, some people don’t believe it’s enough. Vietnam’s Automobile Transportation Association has proposed that driving under the influence should be seen as a crime. In addition, more traffic police checkpoints should be set up, especially in areas where there are restaurants and bars.
Last month, a new national traffic safety campaign for 2017 was launched with the theme Traffic Culture for Children — Human Life First. The campaign aims at a 5 to 10 percent year-on-year reduction in the number of traffic accidents. All violations, especially high-risk behaviour including driving under the influence, speeding, overloaded carriages, and buses dropping and picking up passengers on highways, will be strictly enforced in line with regulations.
Whether the new fines and campaign will work in 2017 or not, and whether you are in a drinking mood for the festive season, don’t drive if you drink and simply let Grabbike or Uber do the work for you.