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Deadly right

Son Nguyen
Friday,  Mar 23,2018,22:18 (GMT+7)
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Deadly right

Son Nguyen

A fatal traffic accident took place early this week when two vehicles – one fire engine and an inter-provincial bus – moving in opposite directions collided on an expressway in Hanoi. Traffic accidents are by no means abnormal in the country, but the case this time has stirred up heated debate, with many lawyers, experts, and the public entering a war of words over who or what is to blame for the accident.

As covered in local media, a fire brigade in Hanoi, learning of an accident on Phap Van-Cau Gie Expressway on Sunday, sent a fire engine to the victim’s rescue. The fire engine took an access road to the expressway, and at the T-junction, the vehicle crossed directly onto the expressway in the wrong direction when the bus packed with 40 passengers was approaching. In a split second, the bus rammed into the fire-fighting vehicle, killing one fire fighter and injuring several others, shows a video supplied by the expressway management.

Either vehicle was violating the traffic law, according to an initial assessment by police. However, as the grave consequence has ensued, arguments flood newspapers these days, seeking to tell right from wrong. Many are of the opinion that fire-fighting vehicles have the privilege to run on any road and other vehicles have to give way, while numerous others argue that in this particular case, the bus was driving legally on the way so its driver cannot be blamed for the mishap.

And the dispute has reached a high pitch.

Major General Hoang Quoc Dinh, director of Hanoi City’s Fire Brigade, asserts in Phap Luat Online that “it was completely legal for the fire engine to run in the wrong direction on the expressway… as it was the quickest shortcut to get to the scene.” All warning measures were taken by the firefighters, including siren, loudspeaker and police lamp, to capture attention of drivers.

On news site Dan Tri, a traffic expert says it is understandable when the fire engine resorted to its privilege to run in the wrong way on the expressway. The bus driver failed to observe all warnings in this case, as there were no signs the vehicle slowed down before the collision.

In Lao Dong, lawyer Nguyen Anh Thom with the Hanoi Bar Association even accuses the bus driver for the accident, saying in the paper that “the bus driver is to blame; he violated traffic regulations and Article 260 of the Penal Code, which may carry a prison term of 15 years.”

Reader columns of many news site are also awash with arguments for the fire-fighting vehicle driver and criticisms towards the bus driver.

However, numerous others have come to the bus driver’s side, for a very good reason at that.

Lawyer Nguyen Anh Tuan, also with the Hanoi Bar Association, reasons in Bao Dat Viet that “having the privilege in traffic circulation does not mean one can sidestep other norms, especially safety norms.” Referencing a circular of the Ministry of Transport, the lawyer says that vehicles when moving in the same direction on Phap Van-Cau Gie Expressway must maintain a distance of 100 meters but the fire engine in this case, though taking an opposite direction, did not observe the safety distance.

Sharing the opinion, Lawyer Nguyen Thanh Cong of the HCMC Bar Association, says that the key traffic principle is to ensure safety for the driver as well as for the community. “Even with the privilege, a fire engine cannot abruptly cut across the busy traffic flow,” he is quoted in the news site zing.vn.

Phan Le Binh, a lecturer at the Vietnam-Japan University, says in Vnexpress.net that “it is suicidal when a fire engine trespasses onto the expressway in this case.” When running at 80-100 kilometers per hour, a driver needs a distance of around 100 meters to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, while in this accident, the distance was only over ten meters, he notes.

In an interview with Lao Dong, Lawyer Vu Thai Ha of the Hanoi Bar Association says that the law sets aside privileges for certain types of vehicle so as to create the utmost convenience for them to cope with emergencies and to minimize damages for the community. Such privileges must be used in a reasonable way, and must not create greater collateral damages for other transport means, he comments.

“After viewing the video, I realize that the bus driver has no way to avoid a collision… The bus driver should be seen as a victim,” the lawyer is quoted as saying, adding “the fire engine driver had more choices when driving in the wrong way.”

Others call for amending the law to ban vehicles from driving the wrong way into expressways, saying such a privilege poses huge risks to the public.

In Tuoi Tre, many drivers demand that under all circumstances vehicles be banned from driving in the wrong direction on expressways, as it is very dangerous. When moving at a high speed on expressways, drivers cannot change lanes abruptly to avoid privileged vehicles, since such actions will pose high dangers for other vehicles, says the paper.

In VTC News, Nguyen Manh Thang, administrator of the otofun.net, observes that the traffic flow on expressways differs greatly from that on highways or other roads, but competent agencies have not issued specific regulations for traffic circulation on such high-speed roads.

Similarly, an expert at the Traffic Safety Society says in Vnexpress.net that taking the wrong direction on expressways should by no means be accepted, and the privilege needs to be abolished. “In 2008, when the Traffic Law was issued, there was no expressway in the country, so traffic regulations are no longer suitable to current situations. The Ministry of Transport should amend the law to avoid the disparity,” says the man.

In the aftermath of the accident, several officials have also called for a review of the privilege.

Tran Van Minh, vice office manager of the National Traffic Safety Committee, says on Vnexpress.net that privileges are necessary, but it is necessary to weigh whether steps to use such privileges are suitable or not. Similarly, Nguyen Minh Son of the HCMC Procuracy Institute, while acknowledging such privileges, says in Tuoi Tre that when taking privileges, drivers must also ensure that human lives are of paramount importance, and privileges must be used in a professional way.

Competent agencies will finally come with a conclusion on the accident, and whether privileges as in this case will remain or not, it is important that such privileges will not put the people in harm’s way.

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