Confiscated motorcycles pile up as Vietnam hunts down drunk drivers

Motorcycles, Vietnam’s preferred mode of transportation, are piling up in seized lots in Ho Chi Minh City as some owners find it more profitable to abandon them than pay fines to get them back.

The city, Vietnam’s financial center, has become more aggressive in cracking down on drunk drivers in recent years, increasing fines and impounding vehicles. Those fines are now often higher than the value of the vehicles, which many drivers don’t claim, officials say.

Now the police are wondering what to do with them.

Some residents are so frustrated by this that they are airing their grievances publicly, although criticizing the ruling Communist Party can be risky in Vietnam.

Nguyen Khang, 30, who works at a bank in Ho Chi Minh City, said an inefficient and unnecessarily punitive system was holding motorcycles “hostage.”

“The competent authorities also understand this,” he added. “But deep down they still haven’t found a more comprehensive approach.”

He zero tolerance The anti-drunk driving campaign echoes previous efforts in Vietnam to promote public order (for example, evicting food vendors from the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh) that were widely perceived as heavy-handed.

Hue-Tam Jamme, an urban development expert in Vietnam, said the abandoned motorcycles reflect a transition: As more Vietnamese join the middle class and buy their first cars, bicycles become less essential in a country widely known for their motorcycles. traffic.

Vietnam’s car ownership rate is still far below that of richer countries, although it jumped from 3.3 to 4.8 cars per 100 households between 2018 and 2020, recent government data shows.

In Ho Chi Minh City, cars represent a relatively small portion of vehicles on the roads – 13 percent in 2018, according to Professor Jamme’s data – but their presence has already caused tensions at the street level. There have been occasional physical altercations between car owners and residents who resent the loss of space for motorcycle parking and sidewalk commerce.

“The motorcycle is no longer the status symbol it used to be,” said Professor Jamme, who teaches at Arizona State University and studies the role vehicles play in Vietnam’s cities and economy.

“It doesn’t surprise me that people are willing to let it go,” he added. “A very large fine could be the trigger to say, ‘Okay, okay, I’m not even going to pay.’”

A four-year campaign against the harmful effects of alcohol has been a major factor in vehicle seizures across Vietnam in recent years. Among other changes, the maximum fine for drunk driving approximately doubled in 2020 to the equivalent of more than $300, which is more than the average monthly salary of a Vietnamese worker. The law prohibits people from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system.

The campaign has had tangible effects in a country where beer flows freely in outdoor restaurants and excessive alcohol consumption is common. National beer sales. at least a quarter fell almost immediately; tens of thousands of people lost their driver’s licenses; and traffic-related accidents, injuries and deaths decreased last year, Ho Chi Minh City police said.

In Ho Chi Minh City, nearly 155,000 vehicles were seized in 2022, most of them motorcycles, and most as a result of alcohol-related traffic violations, according to a local police official. told state media last month.

Nguyen Huu Liem, 56, a construction worker in Ho Chi Minh City, said both his license and motorcycle were confiscated in January after he had “a little drink to relax with a friend at the end of the day.” ”.

“In my opinion, the fine is excessive for the average worker,” he said.

His motorcycle is worth five million Vietnamese dong, the equivalent of about $200. The fine he received for driving while intoxicated was about $80 more. He paid the fine anyway, he said, because the police told him it was the only way to get his license back.

Other drivers are leaving their bikes in Ho Chi Minh City police parking lots, and the crash is creating administrative headaches.

Since last month, the city’s traffic police department was lack of space to store motorcycles by 100,000 square feet, about the size of a city park, police told local media. Thousands of bicycles have been sold at auctionbut the delay has continued to grow and the fires have occasionally burst in the lots.

Jack Dang, 35, a construction worker in Ho Chi Minh City, said he had seen groups of people rummaging for motorcycle parts inside the lots.

“Once they get them here,” he said, “it’s over.”