Friday, December 26, 2008

Dispatches from Vietnam: #1 - Traffic

I will be in Vietnam for the next couple weeks visiting my parents, so I'll be blogging about interesting things I see there. One of the first things you notice in Vietnam is that there are few cars; there are mostly motorbikes. But the most amazing thing is that there are very few traffic lights and traffic laws are not well enforced. For example, at most intersections, traffic from two perpendicular directions will travel through the intersection simultaneously, and people will just avoid each other in the middle. Even in intersections which do have traffic lights what often happens is that on the road that has a red light, traffic going from each direction will spill out from their side over the entire road (rather than staying to their side like they do in ths U.S.) creating two opposed "walls" of motorbikes. Then when the light turns green, both sides will go at the same time!

Surprisingly, there are few crashes. Part of this may simply be due to the relatively slow speeds that traffic travels at (rarely more than 30 mph or so, at least on the parts that we've been on so far) but part of this may be due to the method used to punish drivers who are the cause of accidents. Apparently, in any crash, the driver of the larger vehicle is considered to be at fault. And, since Vietnam does not have a well-developed court system like in the U.S., they use the next best alternative: all the bystanders will pull the driver out of his car and beat him up. (Of course, this makes drivers in Vietnam much more careful than drivers in the U.S.)


At least in the context of traffic accidents, how does the Vietnamese justice system compare to the American justice system in terms of efficiency, cost, and effectiveness at deterring harmful behavior? Are there lessons that the U.S. could learn from Vietnamese experience in this area?

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