- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2008

HANOI | Vietnam is considering banning small-chested drivers from its roads — a proposal that has provoked widespread disbelief in this nation of slight people.

The Ministry of Health recently recommended that people whose chests measure fewer than 28 inches would be prohibited from driving motorbikes — as would those who are too short or too thin.

The proposal is part of an exhaustive list of new criteria the ministry has come up with to ensure that Vietnam’s drivers are in good health. As news of the plan was reported by the media this week, Vietnamese expressed incredulity.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Tran Thi Phuong, 38, a Hanoi insurance agent. “It’s absurd.”

“The new proposals are very funny, but many Vietnamese people could become the victim of this joke,” said Le Quang Minh, 31, a Hanoi stockbroker. “Many Vietnamese women have small chests. I have many friends who won’t meet these criteria.”

It was not clear how the ministry established its size guidelines or why it thinks that small people make bad drivers. An official there declined to comment.

The average Vietnamese man is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 121 pounds. The average Vietnamese woman is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 103 pounds.

Statistics on average chest size were unavailable.

The rules would cover the vast majority of Vietnam’s 20 million motorbikes. It would not apply to drivers of cars or trucks.

Motorbikes account for more than 90 percent of the vehicles on Vietnam’s chaotic roads, which are among the world’s most dangerous.

Nearly 13,000 road deaths were recorded last year, and Vietnam has one of the world’s highest rates per 100,000, according to the World Health Organization. The majority of accidents involve motorbikes, which many workers in the nation of 85 million need to do their jobs.

When Nguyen Van Tai, a motorbike taxi driver, heard about the proposal, he immediately had his chest measured. Much to his relief, Mr. Tai beat the chest limit by 3 inches.

“A lot of people in my home village are small,” said Mr. Tai, 46. “Many in my generation were poor and suffered from malnutrition. And now the Ministry of Health wants to stop us from driving to work.”

Vietnamese bloggers have been poking fun at the plan, envisioning traffic police with tape measures eagerly pulling over female drivers to measure their chests.

“From now on, padded bras will be best-sellers,” said Bo Cu Hung, a popular Ho Chi Minh City blogger.

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