Wednesday, April 4, 2012

(In)Tolerable Loss?

There it was, as we turned the bend, through the fog we could see the twisted and scrunched up remains of what had been, only a few minutes before, cars and trucks. One of the cars had collapsed into the back of a large container truck, another had simply swerved off and had been abruptly stopped by the hillside which hugged the narrow mountain road. Then there was the fuel truck. It jack-knifed and swerved the other way, towards the precipice of a giant cliff. It couldn't have stopped more then a few feet from the deadly drop off. It was absolutely incredible. As we drove through the scene, people milled about, one of the truck drivers was bleeding from the head. A group of motorists had stopped and were helping get people out of the cars. I was traveling with my school group and we were on a trip through a mountainous region of Vietnam, and, as there seemed to be little we could do, our driver continued on, back into the fog.

            Unfortunately for the accident victims, the ambulances probably didn't arrive for a long time. We were high in the northern mountains, and if it takes an hour for the fire department to arrive in the city, it's hard to even guess how long one in the countryside takes. That is a major problem right now in Vietnam. Their emergency response right now is just completely unacceptable. The country is developing at such a rapid pace, and yet it lacks way behind on issues such as the wellbeing of the people.

Our driver's view as we make our way along the busy road
            The road we were on also says a lot about development in the country. It was built many years ago to support light car traffic, but is now heavily used by all kinds of vehicles, be it trucks, cars, motorbikes, actual bikes, farm equipment....basically anything that can roll is out there. If I thought the safety conditions in the cities were bad, the driving in the countryside is simply unbelievable. There are no seatbelt laws (or there could be, but either way no one cares), the people rarely wear helmets on motorbikes, and cars and trucks drive as if they are in a street race. The average speed at which motorists are drive at is absolutely crazy. Being out on these roads in low visibility conditions, the people in our van were getting nervous, and I don't blame them, I was too. Add to that driving on a high, windy mountain road, with flimsy little guardrails, and with semi-trucks and busses regularly passing on blind corners....and it’s really no mystery at all that people die up here all the time. If anything, I was surprised we didn't see more accidents.  
That is one lucky trucker right there

          So, of course now the question is, how can the road become safer? Well there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. A lot of things need to change. People need to become more aware while driving, and realize that a helmet, or seat belt, might actually help them. The government needs to look more at distributing more of the wealth outside of the major cities, and improving dangerous roads like this one. Only then can progress be made to make transportation safer in the countryside.

          I recently discussed this issue with my (real) dad, and he told me about the concept of acceptable loss.  That is, a society will tolerate a certain amount of loss - road accidents with fatalities in this case - but eventually a tipping point is reached where the loss becomes unacceptable and the society will then spend the necessary money and enforce the necessary rules to mitigate the loss. An example in the US would be that in the 1970s, road fatalities were significantly higher per capita than they are now (like double!), but that number eventually became high enough that it was intolerable to American society, so we introduced (and enforced) seatbelt requirements, lower speed limits, and safer car standards to bring down the number of road fatalities.

          I wonder what it will take to effect similar change in Vietnamese society.

1 comment:

  1. I think that it's very cool how you and your family played soccer with the monks. You and your just keep on traveling and it's so cool!