Saturday morning and the streets of Sai Gon are awash with a new array of shapes and colours in the form of helmets. Yep, Saturday 15 was “helmet day” and finally, after many thwarted attempts, the powers that be here have finally convinced the population that they must wear helmets when travelling on a motorbike. The new decree includes passengers and children, I’m not sure about tiny babies.
I couldn’t wait to get out of bed on Saturday and race down the hem to look at what was happening on busy Nguyen Dinh Chieu St. It was an amazing change, everybody was wearing helmets unlike the last time this law was enacted when everyone simply ignored it. There has been a great deal of debate as to whether or not citizens would finally give in, but with the amount of recent activity in shops and street stalls selling helmets, I could see that the writing was on the wall.
The government here has engaged in a massive advertising campaign aimed at getting citizens to wear helmets. There are dozens of posters lining the main thoroughfares here with graphic depiction’s of people with serious head traumas and accompanying text advising that these type of injuries could have been avoided through helmet use. But obviously the thought of serious injury is not the catalyst because most people did not comply until the 15th (I estimate that only around 20% of people were wearing helmets up until the 14th) and most were incredulous when I was wearing my helmet “too early”. Most people hate wearing them, especially the women who complain that their makeup and hair will be messed up.
No, the real reason why people have complied, I think, is the threat of severe fines and the police have been out in force. I saw one lady and her daughter pulled over, still just wearing floppy hats. What was even better was witnessing a guy wearing a builders construction helmet being stopped. It seems as though finally the whole helmet deal is being taken seriously, well… by the authorities at least.
There still needs to be some education about the best ways to wear helmets as I seen many children with chin straps hanging undone or so loose as to be useless in case of an impact. Last night I saw one little girl sitting behind her mother and struggling to hold the helmet that was way too big in place, thereby running the risk of falling off.
Anyway, I’ll be interested to see if people try and get away without wearing them as the pressure eases off, but realistically I will never again be able to enjoy the wind rippling through my hair on a warm evening driving down Le Loi.
“Helmet Day” on busy Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St