At this point in our travels, we’re no stranger to motorbike traffic. People talk quite a bit about the crazy traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, but I’d argue it’s even a bit harder to pick up on the rules of the road in Danang.
In Ho Chi Minh, the traffic is quite dense. People seem to be pretty relaxed on the road, cruzing along eyes half open, mom on the back nursing a newborn, etc. It’s all kind of like a big lethargic tsunami of motorbikes, rumbling through the streets, coming together in some parts, breaking up in others, and all you need to do is roll along with it.
Danang, however, is a bit more like the wild wild west. You have people coming directly at you from north, west, east and south all at the same time while sharing a lane with a cyclist and an 18 wheeler who is blasting his horn so loud that your bones almost rattle out of your skin.
Rules of the Road in Danang
Most tourists don’t stay in Danang long enough to figure it out, so having stayed over a month there I thought I might share some of the de-facto rules of the road that I’ve picked up.
Drive on the Right
One of the first things you need to know when you go to a new country is which side of the road to drive on. In Vietnam, you drive on the right side of the road, like in North America or China.
On occasion, it may be out of your way to cross over onto the correct side of the road to drive with traffic. In situations such as this, drive on the left hand side against traffic until you reach your destination or decide it’s more convenient to cross over onto the “correct” side.
Understand the right-of-way rules
Since Danang does not use stop signs and mostly avoids traffic lights, it is absolutely necessary that you fully understand the right-of-way rules at interactions. Newbies may find the right-of-way rules difficult to grasp at first since they are slightly different than in western countries.
You’ll find, however, that the right-of-way rule is actually so simple that any child who understands the concepts behind the game of “chicken” can understand it. Simply proceed through the intersection showing as little fear as possible. If oncoming drivers believe you will not swerve first, you have won the right-of-way.
Stopping at minor traffic lights
In Danang most traffic lights have only one color: Red. It’s actually a red cross instead of a circle. If the red cross is lit, you can stop. You can also go, however, if there isn’t any traffic coming down the other way… or if you get bored of waiting… or if you moving at a good pace and don’t want to be interrupted. When proceeding through a red light, just remember the right-of-way rules or you’ll never get through mass of motorbikes coming the other way.
Stopping at major traffic lights
There are only a few major traffic lights in Danang. Usually the light is hung on the near side of the intersection, directly above you and out of sight if you’re stopped at the front. In this case, take your queue to go when traffic behind you starts moving in front of you en masse. Don’t be fooled if one or two motorbikes move in front of you as they may just prefer to wait in the center of the intersection or not to wait at all.
Making a Left Turn down a side street
When approaching a left turn down a side road, give yourself enough time to maneuver over to the left side of the center lane. When you are about 30-50 meters from your turn, cross over into oncoming traffic and dodge-left until you’ve reached the turn, at which point you can turn abruptly through the remaining oncoming vehicles to reach your side street.
Using your turn signal
Most motorbikes come equipped with turn signal lights. They both flash and beep when activated. This feature is to be used sparingly. It’s ok to use you’re turn signal, and there is no specific rule as to when it is appropriate to use it, as long as you keep its use limited to around 3-5% of turns.
Honking your horn
If you notice another driver on the road, honk your horn repeatedly. In high levels of traffic, this can sometimes be difficult, or perhaps you may worry that with everyone honking repeatedly it may get lost in a constant mass honking sound. Don’t worry though, many vehicles are equipped with automatic horns that honk louder and at rapid-speed in varying tones to cut through the regular horns and add a bit of variety.
Cutting in front of others
This can be slightly confusing for new drivers in Danang, because in some other countries cutting people off can be considered rude or even dangerous. In Danang, however, it is considered standard driving practice. If you are riding on the back of a motorbike, it is ok to use standard bicycle hand signals, as long as you do so after the maneuvers has completed to indicate to the other driver that you have just cut them off.
Maximum number of motorbike passengers
The maximum number of passengers on a moborbike in Vietnam is 3 adults or 2 adults and 3 children. You may not carry more than the maximum unless you can fit more. The word “fit” is to be interpreted at your own discretion.
Share the side roads
While the main roads are reserved strictly for cars, motorbikes, and semi-trucks, industrial machines, pedestrians (walking, running, and crawling), bicycles, peddle taxies, moving food carts (motorized, peddle, and push styles), wheelchairs, and animals… just remember that side roads in Danang are SHARED with Chinese checkers players.
Bonus Rule for Pedestrians
While this is not a motorbike rule, it is so important that I thought I’d better also include it.
When crossing the road, you MUST cross at a cross walk unless there is no crosswalk exactly where you want it to be. Wait and cross the road ONLY until such time that you need to cross the road. As a pedestrian, you are the most vulnerable person on the road, so do not look up or demonstrate any awareness of your surroundings or vehicle traffic will sense your fear fail to stop. It is advisable to talk on your cell phone as you cross to demonstrate the most convincing lack of giving-a-crap as possible.