VIETNAM: Stricter child helmet law needed
Vietnam passed a mandatory helmet law in 2007
HANOI, 20 January 2011 (IRIN) - Thousands of children in Vietnam continue to be killed or injured in motorcycle-related accidents each year, reinforcing the need for stricter enforcement and further revision of the country's mandatory helmet law.
Despite near 100 percent compliance for adults, compliance among children is very low at an estimated 30 percent, health experts and activists say.
"Everyone who travels on a motorcycle should wear a helmet," Jonathon Passmore, technical officer for road safety and injury prevention for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Hanoi, told IRIN. "A large number of children are still very much exposed to the potential for serious or even fatal head injuries."
Until May 2010 there was no mechanism for enforcing the requirement for children to wear helmets. Under the most recent legislative revision to the 2007 law, people who take children six years of age and older on a motorbike without wearing a helmet can be fined US$5-$10.
The helmet penalty regulation - while otherwise successful and a positive first step - requires further revision so that children of all ages are required to wear helmets with financial penalties, Greig Craft, president of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation (AIP)
, which has been supporting VietNam's bid to introduce universal helmet wearing since 1999, explained.
"Equally important, parents, teachers and all caregivers must take immediate action to ensure that all children wear helmets at all times. No excuses. No exceptions," he said.
According to the AIP, at least 500 children a month or 6,000 children a year under the age of 10 are killed in road accidents, mostly involving motorcycles.
Of the more than 9,000 motorcycle fatalities in Vietnam each year, in addition to 18,000 severe head injuries, 90 percent involve children.
This is a country where the motorbike remains the predominant mode of transport for millions of families.
According to the Ministry of Transport, more than 95 percent of Vietnam's 31 million registered vehicles are motorcycles - a figure that increased by more than 7,000 a day in 2009.
But loopholes in the law and challenges to effective enforcement are just part of the equation.
Compounding the issue is the ill-founded myth that the weight of a helmet can injure a child's throat or neck. "Many parents still believe this," Nguyen Thi Thanh An, a childhood injury prevention specialist with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said.
"Clearly myths such as these will need to be addressed in order to increase the prevalence of helmet wearing in Vietnamese children," a 2010 government and UNICEF report on child injury prevention stated.
According to WHO, there is no evidence of a connection between helmets and neck injuries.
"Parents need to understand that there is no medicine for brain damage. Like a vaccination, a helmet is the only known prevention to save a child's life or brain from head injury," Craft said.
"They must understand that there is no difference between an adult's head and a child's head. Both need protection."
In Southeast Asia, an estimated two-thirds of road traffic crash fatalities are motorcyclists, with more than 40 people dying each hour in the region, WHO says.