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.
You are responsible for ensuring that you meet and comply with foreign entry requirements, health requirements and that you possess the appropriate travel documents. Information provided is subject to change without notice. One should confirm content prior to traveling from other reliable sources. Information published on this website may contain errors. You travel at your own risk and no warranties or guarantees are provided by us.