Fashion Police vs. Traffic Police

Vietnam may not tolerate dissent, but citizens freely flout its traffic laws. Can the state force teenage bikers to wear helmets?

Justin Guariglia / National Geographic / Getty

Thousands of motorbikes swerving at high speed and near-misses at every corner can make the roaring streets of Hanoi a terrifying place for the uninitiated. But for Vietnamese teenagers like Trinh Thanh Van, the motorized maelstrom is a party on wheels. It's 8 p.m. on a weeknight, and 19-year-old Van is out with two girlfriends on the back of her red Honda Wave, darting through ever-shifting streams of motorbikes as they look for new friends. It's a typical evening of luon lo (literally "wandering"), the nightly ritual where young Vietnamese cruise, flirt and flaunt their...

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