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Everybody knows that texting while driving isn't smart, even the people who text while driving. But imagine this: texting while driving a motorcycle in heavy traffic.

As NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Hanoi, it's not that uncommon in a country where motorcycles are the primary source of transportation, and the trend has public health officials on edge.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Pham Thi Thuy Linh is 21 years old, a third-year college student and, according to a recent contest sponsored by a mobile phone company, she's got the fastest fingers in Vietnam - and she's happy to prove it.

(Soundbite of tapping)

Ms. PHAM THI THUY LINH: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: She says she can text 160 characters in 25 seconds, though she says she's a little slower texting with her eyes closed - or when driving her motorcycle.

Ms. LINH: (Through translator) I think I'm about 20 or 30 percent slower texting on my bike. And it's easier to make mistakes because I'm trying to watch the road in front of me.

SULLIVAN: She doesn't much care that texting while driving is both illegal and not too smart, and she's not alone. Yes, Vietnam is a one-party state where political dissent isn't tolerated. But traffic laws? Forget about it. Twenty-nine million motorcycles, bad roads and a lot of people in a hurry - any guesses what comes next?

(Soundbite of crowd)

SULLIVAN: This is the emergency room at Hanoi's Viet Duc Hospital. The emergency room floor littered, literally, with patients - more than a hundred and counting by early evening - the vast majority, victims of traffic accidents.

Emergency room chief Dr. Doan Quoc Hung(ph) calls traffic accidents a national calamity, a public health emergency that's getting worse every day. And incidents involving people talking or texting while driving, he says, are becoming more common.

Dr. DOAN QUOC HUNG (Emergency Room Chief, Viet Duc Hospital): (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: It's dangerous not just for them, but for the drivers around them, too, he says. Today, we performed 14 operations and all but three were from traffic accidents. People know they shouldn't use their phones, he says, they know they shouldn't drink and drive, but they don't care. New technology and more economic opportunity are great, he says, as long as people use both responsibly.

Dr. HUNG: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: Most of these accidents, Dr. Hung says, simply don't need to happen. And caring and paying for the injured and dead puts a burden on both their families and society, he says. At this hospital, we should be treating people with real illnesses, he says, and not spending our time dealing with this.

Tran Van Thanh(ph) is a senior official in the government's office of traffic safety. He understands the doctor's concerns, but says people's bad habits will take time to change.

Mr. TRAN VAN THANH (Senior Official, Office of Traffic Safety, Vietnam): (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: With limited resources, he says, it's impossible to crack down on everyone for everything. Drunk drivers and reckless drivers are the priority now, he says. The rest will come later.

Back at Viet Duc Hospital, neurosurgeon Nguyen Duc Hiep is worried later won't be soon enough. His head trauma unit is full of accident victims. And while he knows driving under the influence is still the number one cause of traffic injuries, he worries what will happen next month when local phone companies roll out cheaper packages for 3G phones. Packages he predicts will lead to more people surfing the Web while on their motorcycles.

Dr. NGUYEN DUCK HIEP (Neurosurgeon, Viet Duc Hospital): (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: It's crazy, he says, the way people want to be on their phones, talking and texting all the time.

Texting contest winner Pham Thi Thuy Linh, meanwhile, says she can't wait to get one of the new iPhone packages. She says it will let her text even faster than she does now, from everywhere - including her bike.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Hanoi.

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