Vietnam | Ho Chi Minh City confronts its drinking and driving epidemic

Ho Chi Minh City confronts its drinking and driving epidemic

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Officials in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam have recently launched a powerful new mass media campaign to reduce drinking and driving, a frequent cause of road crashes across Vietnam, including in Ho Chi Minh City, its largest city. This effort came on the heels of two other recent drinking and driving mass media campaigns in Bogotá, Colombia and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – all part of an effort supported by Vital Strategies and the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) to reduce the burden of road crashes, which kill over 1.2 million people annually around the world and injure countless others.

Road safety experts refer to the epidemic of drinking and driving as “drink driving” instead of “drunk driving” since impairment of driving skills, particularly the ability to respond in an emergency situation, starts even with small amounts of drinking.

At a press event held at the Youth Cultural Palace, city and police leaders unveiled two public service announcements (PSAs) that vividly showcase the grave consequences of operating a car or motorcycle after consuming alcohol. The first PSA featured the story of a young girl riding her bicycle who is killed by a car driver who had been drinking alcohol.

The second PSA showed a motorcycle driver who, after consuming alcohol, crashes his motorcycle, resulting in the death of his brother, his passenger. In a country like Vietnam, where 34 percent of all road crash deaths involve alcohol, and most vehicles on the road are motorcycles, this ad in particular targets an important audience.

Both PSAs will be aired on HCMC television and promoted on social media through November and December, a time of year that sees an increase in alcohol consumption due to the holiday season. In addition, weekly 15-minute road safety segments on HCMC television will feature the campaign ads and supporting editorial content. Twenty thousand copies of the PSAs are being distributed through the 24 Districts of Ho Chi Minh City to be used in hospitals, bus stations, on buses, and for public education activities at the community level.

We know from research that hard-hitting ads that show real consequences of driving after drinking alcohol, such as death and injury, can influence drivers to reconsider drinking and driving. Yet strategic messages alone are only half of the equation – they must be matched with visible, effective enforcement of the drink driving law. When people also fear the personal legal consequences for drink driving such as fines, losing their license or even jail, and when they believe their chances of being detected for drink driving are high, they are much more likely to abide by these traffic laws.

Like many other parts of the world, it is too common for people to believe that if they aren’t visibly intoxicated and have just had “a couple of drinks,” they are safe to operate a motor vehicle. But with ongoing road safety efforts by the city government, Ho Chi Minh City will be a safer place for all road users and pedestrians. We look forward to working closely with these efforts and furthering this global initiative to end the devastating epidemic of road crashes, which are largely preventable and destroy far too many lives.

Tom Carroll
Dr. Tom Carroll is a psychologist with more than thirty years’ experience in public health social marketing in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. Based in Sydney, he is a consultant and senior advisor on policy and communications, with global public health organization, Vital Strategies, and regional lead for the organization's tobacco and road safety programs in South-East Asia. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney and was previously senior advisor on social marketing and research to the Australian Department of Health.
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