Vietnam Transportation Safety
The information below has been excerpted from the following: 1) the US Department of State's "International Travel" website (travel.state.gov/travel/), 2) the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's "Smartraveller" website (www.smartraveller.gov.au), and 3) the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "Foreign Travel Advice" website (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/). Additional information is available from these sources. World Trade Press annually assesses the information presented on this page.
United States: Department of State International Travel Information
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS
While in Vietnam, you will encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Vietnam is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in Vietnam is chaotic. Traffic accidents occur frequently. The most common victims are motorbike riders and pedestrians. At least 30 people die each day from transportation-related injuries and many more are injured, often with traumatic head injuries. Traffic accident injuries are the leading cause of death, severe injury, and emergency evacuation of foreigners in Vietnam. Traffic accidents, including those involving a pedestrian and a motorized vehicle, are the single greatest health and safety risk you will face in Vietnam.
Traffic moves on the right, although drivers frequently cross to the left to pass or turn, and motorcycles and bicycles often travel (illegally) against the flow of traffic. Drivers honk their horns constantly, often for no apparent reason. Streets in major cities are choked with motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, and cyclos. Outside the cities, livestock compete with vehicles for road space. Sudden stops by motorcycles and bicycles make driving particularly hazardous. Nationwide, drivers do not follow basic traffic principles, vehicles do not yield right of way, and there is little adherence to traffic laws or enforcement by traffic police. The number of traffic lights in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is increasing, but red lights are often not obeyed. Most Vietnamese ride motorcycles; often an entire family rides on one motorcycle. The urban speed limit ranges from 30 to 40 km/h (or 19-25 miles/h). The rural speed limit ranges from 40 to 60 km/h (or 25 – 37 miles/h). Both speed limits are routinely ignored.
If you are walking, you should be careful, as sidewalks are extremely uneven and congested, and drivers of bicycles, motorcycles and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows, and even drive on sidewalks. For safety, you should always look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green "walk" light illuminated.
Road conditions are poor nationwide. Numerous accidents occur due to poor road conditions. U.S. citizen travelers have lost their lives on the roads while traveling in northern provinces during the rainy season due to landslides. You should exercise extra caution in the countryside, as road conditions are particularly poor in rural areas.
Driving at night is especially dangerous, and you should exercise extreme caution. Roads are poorly lit, and there are few road signs. Buses and trucks often travel at high speed with bright lights that they rarely dim. Some motor vehicles don't use any lights, and vehicles of all types often stop in areas of the road that have no illumination. Livestock are often in the road.
A law mandating the use of motorcycle helmets on all roads went into effect on December 15, 2007, and is strictly enforced. We strongly urge you to wear a helmet when you ride a motorcycle or a bicycle. Vietnamese vehicles often are not equipped with working seatbelts; however, when a seatbelt is available, you should always use it, including in taxis. Child car seats are not available in Vietnam.
Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or causing an accident resulting in injury or death can include fines, confiscation of driving permits, and imprisonment. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Vietnam until they have paid compensation (often determined arbitrarily) for property damage or injuries.
Emergency roadside help is theoretically available nationwide by dialing 113 for police, 114 for fire brigade, and 115 for an ambulance. The efficiency of these services is well below U.S. standards, and public telephones are generally not available. Trauma care is not widely available.
International driving permits and U.S. drivers' licenses are not valid in Vietnam. Foreigners renting vehicles risk prosecution and/or imprisonment for driving without a Vietnamese license endorsed for the appropriate vehicle. If you wish to drive in Vietnam, you should contact any office of the Provincial Public Transportation Service of the Vietnamese Department of Communications and Transport to obtain a Vietnamese driver's license. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City cannot assist you in obtaining Vietnamese driver's permits or notarize U.S. drivers' licenses for use in Vietnam.
Most Vietnamese travel within Vietnam by long-distance bus or train. Both are slow, and safety conditions fall below U.S. standards. Local buses and taxis are available in some areas, particularly in the larger cities. Safety standards vary widely depending on the individual company operating the service, but are generally much lower than what you would find in the United States.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Vietnam, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Vietnam's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA's safety assessment page
Australia: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice
Travel is restricted near military installations. Travel is also restricted in some parts of the Central Highlands and some border areas.
Unexploded ordnance and landmines are a continuing hazard in former battlefields, particularly in central Vietnam and along the Laos border. Mine-free roads and paths are well marked.
Tour operators may not meet the safety standards expected in Australia, especially for adventure sports (such as mountain climbing) and boat trips.
If you plan to visit the Long Tan Cross site in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, you should note that the site is located on non-public land and visitors are required to follow certain procedures to access the site. See the Australian Consulate-General website for further information.
You must have a valid Vietnamese drivers licence to drive in Vietnam (for all vehicles, including motorcycles of 50cc or more). International Driver’s Permits are not recognised in Vietnam. Non-Vietnamese citizens are only permitted to drive in Vietnam if they hold a temporary Vietnamese drivers licence. Fines for driving without a valid licence vary. For information on obtaining a Vietnamese drivers licence (including temporary licences) visit the website of the Australian Embassy in Hanoi.
Driving standards and vehicle and road maintenance are generally poor. Traffic accidents occur frequently in Vietnam and tend to attract large crowds.
A very high number of serious injuries and deaths occur as a result of motorcycle accidents. The number of tourists involved in serious motorcycle accidents is increasing. Under Vietnamese law, you must wear a helmet at all times when riding a motorcycle, including when travelling as a passenger.
You should consider the risks of driving a car or riding a motorcycle in Vietnam, particularly if you are unfamiliar with local conditions. If you are involved in an accident, whether or not you are at fault, you could face criminal charges and may be required to make large compensation payments to the injured person.
Inter-city buses have a high accident rate. Petty theft regularly occurs on buses.
Streets are crowded in major cities and road rules are routinely ignored. Be very careful when crossing busy streets as traffic can appear from any direction.
Rail travel is generally safe in Vietnam, however petty theft can occur. We have received numerous reports of theft on sleeper trains between Hanoi and Sapa.
For further advice, see our road travel page.
Boats, hydrofoils and ferries in Vietnam may not meet Australian safety standards. Accidents on waterways do occur and there have been a number of fatalities resulting from vessels sinking, for example, in Ha Long Bay. Whenever considering travelling by boat, you should ask tour operators about the safety record and emergency procedures, and ensure there is adequate safety equipment such as life vests on board.
Piracy occurs in the coastal areas of Vietnam. For more information about piracy, see our piracy bulletin. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on itswebsite.
See our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.
United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Foreign Travel Advice
You will need to get a Vietnamese driving licence to drive a car or motorcycle from the Hanoi Department of Public Works and Transportation (telephone:+84 4 3843 5325) or the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Public Works and Transportation (telephone: +84 8 3829 0451 or 0452). Don’t use your passport as a deposit for hiring vehicles or in place of a fine in the event of a traffic offence.
The standard of driving and vehicle maintenance is poor. There are frequent fatal crashes.
Traffic accidents tend to attract a large crowd. If you are involved in a traffic accident you could face criminal charges and you may need to pay compensation to the injured person even if the injuries are minor. You will be given a receipt for any official fine. If you are subject to an investigation, offer the police your full co-operation and inform the British Embassy or Consulate.
Riding a motorbike can be dangerous. There are fatal accidents daily. These can result in costly medical bills and you may not be covered by your insurance. It is illegal to be on a motorbike without a helmet. Helmet safety standards vary.
Metered taxis from larger firms are generally reliable. There are many taxi operators and meters are set at different prices. The meter should start at around 8,000 to 20,000 VND. Where possible get hotels or restaurants to book you a reputable taxi.
There have been reports of overcharging for taxi journeys from airports. Check the published fare near the taxi stands before starting your journey.
Bus and coach crashes are not unusual. Vehicles are often poorly maintained. The risk of death or injury on the road increases if you travel at night. When travelling by bus be vigilant against petty theft. Don’t accept offers of free transfers to hotels unless organised in advance, as these are likely to be bogus.
Rail travel in Vietnam is generally safe. Be vigilant against petty theft. There have been numerous reports of personal belongings being stolen while people are asleep on the Sapa to Hanoi train.
There have been a number of fatal boat accidents in Vietnam, some involving foreign nationals in Halong Bay. The most recent fatal accident was in October 2012. Safety regulations and standards vary greatly and are not at the same level as the United Kingdom. Check with your tour guide about the safety record and registration of boats, and the certification of personnel before setting off. Make sure you receive a full safety briefing when joining any boat. Consider safety standards carefully before taking an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay as boats can sink quickly and without warning.
Piracy has been known to occur in coastal areas off Vietnam. Mariners should be vigilant, reduce opportunities for attacks, establish secure areas onboard and report all incidents to the coastal and flag state authorities.
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