By David Snyder

Traffic accidents are theleading cause of injury and death among young people in Vietnam. In the country’s capital of Hanoi, an estimated 30 people die in road accidents each day. Injury rates on the country’s roadways have risen dramatically, as population growth continues to surpass the development of Vietnam’s infrastructure and public safety awareness.

“The situation is getting worse, especially with the young people,” says Nguyen Van Hai, a former participant in Counterpart’s Safe Fleet initiative. “They drive very fast and they don’t obey the law, so the driving is very dangerous.”

In 2001, Counterpart launched the Vietnam Injury Control Program (VICP), a series of planned activities aimed at reducing the number of injuries and accidents on the country’s streets. One of the most effective projects under the program was the Safe Fleet initiative where Hanoi’s motorbike taxi drivers, known asXe Om, were trained in First Aid techniques and road safety in collaboration with the Hanoi Red Cross.

Nguyen Ngoc Vinh is one of almost 500 Xe Om, who is now a safer driver and better equipped to help those injured in traffic accidents thanks to the training.

“I have been involved in about 100 incidents since the training, sometimes just scrapes and small injuries,” he explains.  “Once I saw a motorbike accident where someone had a broken leg. Along with some other people I helped bandage the leg and I took them to the hospital.”

Participants are interviewed before being accepted into the program, ensuring that those taking part are physically fit, healthy and genuinely committed to helping make Hanoi’s streets safer.

“The Red Cross ward approached me,” says Vinh. “Before taking the training I underwent a health test to make sure I could do the job, and I was accepted. I was very happy to be included.”

After completing the course, each Xe Om driver is given a helmet, a uniform shirt, an identification card and a basic first aid kit, which allows him to act as a first responder at the scene of an accident.

Xe Om are perfectly suited to help improve Hanoi’s accident response infrastructure. The drivers are already driving on the streets, they know the city better than most and can travel to and from a scene more quickly than most ambulances.

“Before this training when I saw accidents I would stop and help, but I just did what I could,” says Hai. “Now, after the training, I’m more confident and I feel more professional.”

Their First Aid skills have also improved their own business and client turnover. Those looking for a taxi feel safer and have more confidence in someone who has taken part in Counterpart’s Injury Control Program.

The Project’s impact continues to be felt in Hanoi. Responding to an average of 300 accidents each year, Safe Fleet participants regularly get together with Red Cross staff at the district level to share their stories, statistics, refresh their first aid skills and make sure that they are maintaining their valuable knowledge.