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Japan helps Vietnam tackle 'traffic war'

Companies to help ease traffic with technology, know-how

Buses, motorbikes and bicycles jostle for space on a major road in Hanoi in December. (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

HANOI -- Japanese companies are set to play a significant role in solving Vietnam's traffic war with cutting-edge technology and safety classes.

In a country where three times as many people die in traffic accidents as in Japan, relative to population, driving safely is not just about saving lives, but is crucial to improving logistics quality and boosting auto sales.

Logistics company Nippon Express will introduce digital tachographs to 150 4-ton and 2-ton trucks in Vietnam this month. The device continuously records data such as engine revolutions, acceleration and tilt and detects sudden movements like starting, braking and steering.

The device will be connected to a server at the company's local headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City. Based on the data, which is logged every 30 seconds, the company will rank drivers and provide training to those with poor driving skills in a bid to improve overall quality. In Malaysia, Nippon Express has managed to cut the number of traffic accidents down to a tenth and increased fuel efficiency by close to 10% thanks to the system.

A company official said: "The quality of distribution in Vietnam is still low. If we can reduce the number of traffic accidents and cases of goods being damaged or delayed, we can differentiate our business from competitors." The Ministry of Transport is considering making the system mandatory for buses and other vehicles.

Meanwhile, Toyota Motor plans to train auto safety instructors on a broader scale in Vietnam. In March last year, the automaker awarded its first specialist qualifications to eight individuals, including a police officer and a car dealer, through its original training program designed to teach driving technique and traffic regulations. This year, the company plans to train a few dozen people from a wider range of society.

Vietnamese Deputy Public Security Minister Bui Van Thanh said that he hopes that taking advantage of the global automaker's know-how will help reduce the number of accidents in Vietnam significantly.

Honda Motor is set to open a driving-safety training center in the northern province of Vinh Phuc this summer. The center will have a test course and a simulator, among other features, on an area of 32,000 sq. meters. It is expected to be one of the largest such training centers in the country, and be similar to those Honda runs in Japan and Singapore. The new center in Vietnam will welcome 12,000 trainees annually.

Local governments are also stepping up efforts to improve road safety. This year, the southern province of Long An will begin offering 20 safety driving courses at junior high schools, high schools and universities, among other places. Quang Ninh Province in the north has started sending traffic officers to elementary schools for special classes.

The central government raised fines for traffic violations by 20-60% in August. The new maximum fine is set at 18 million dong ($797). But the number of accidents has not decreased. It appears help from Japanese companies will not be unwelcome.

In Vietnam, about 9,000 people died in traffic accidents in each of the past three years. The number of deaths per 100,000 people stands at 9.4, which is almost as bad as the so-called second traffic war in Japan around 1990.

The number of accidents tripled in 2013 from a year before and has stayed around that level since. The blame has been put on the rapid rise of smartphones. Though the country's new vehicle sales are still around 300,000 units annually, once cars become more popular, traffic deaths may also increase markedly.

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