mira! mira! (look! look!) – (the) joint statement of workers, operators and concerned agencies on the promotion of public transport safety

Traffic Squad Police (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress

TANAUAN, Philippines – I used to have a driver. As a consultant with multiple clients, I was advised that having one would be a good investment to minimize the stress of having to drive from one office to another. In the end I had to let go of the driver. I had to endure even more stress having to observe how he drove. It’s not as if I didn’t try to coach him. At the end of the day, I realized that bad driving habits picked up from having learned to drive on the street were just too hard to break.

The “devil may care” attitude towards driver licensing in the Philippines is one which in and of itself is a safety issue. The lack of education on traffic rules and regulations is a recipe for disaster. When people get caught violating traffic rules and plead ignorance of the law, we can scream “ignorance of the law is no excuse” all we want but this abdication of responsibility by government is abhorrent.

Sometimes when you see motorists violating rules you silently scream to yourself – “ang garapal niyo, walang hiya”. I have since realized that the premise for such a reaction may not actually be present. Developing a conscience or “hiya” implies knowledge of traffic rules and regulations. In many cases, a motorist may not necessarily know the rules.

Rules are meant to regulate behavior. In the case of driving, these rules are meant to regulate behavior which may impinge on road safety. It is hard, however, if not close to impossible to impress upon motorists the safety implications of conforming to traffic rules when they are not aware of the rules themselves because of our inadequate licensing system.

Driving this morning from Makati to Tanauan, I couldn’t help but be dismayed at the number of vehicles I observed which did not have their lights on in the pouring rain. Driving with your lights on when it rains is standard driving procedure not necessarily because the driver may not be able to see but more so that other motorists are able to see you. Imagine the protocol for having to change lanes – you activate your turn signal, you look at your side mirror, quickly turn your head to check your blind spot, gauge whether it’s safe to move to the adjacent lane and the gradually ease into that lane. It would be difficult to see an oncoming vehicle in the adjacent lane on your side mirror when it doesn’t have its headlights on when it rains.

What makes this even more complicated in the Philippines is that very few have any idea about road courtesy. In other countries, an oncoming vehicle in the lane you are moving to would slow down and flash his headlights to signal that he is giving way and allowing you to proceed. In the Philippines, it is more likely that the oncoming driver would speed up, cut you off and flash his headlights (opposite of convention in many civilized countries) as if to say the “F” word.

Even more disconcerting was the way drivers behaved with no apparent regard for the wet and slippery road conditions. This included tailgating and driving at unsafe speeds. Even under ideal driving conditions there is a safe distance between two vehicles. This distance will be dictated by a combination of factors including the speed at which you and others are driving, the weight of your vehicle and road conditions themselves. The objective is always to allow enough distance to mitigate the gravity of accidents when such occurs in front of you.

There also seems to be a lack of appreciation for being aware of one’s environment when driving. I always thought when I was a kid that whenever my dad would look at the rear-view mirror that he was somehow keeping watch over me. I have since come to realize that he was checking what was behind him while also regularly glancing at the side mirrors as well as what was in front. The point being that in case something happens you always know the best way how to react given the information that you’ve already processed. It is also wise, though difficult in the Philippines, to anticipate driver behavior. As I’ve said in the past, driving is not just about putting a key into the ignition slot and mindlessly pointing a vehicle in the direction you’d like it to go.

Last Friday, several government agencies and those in the public transport sector signed the impressively worded “Joint Statement of Workers, Operators, and Concerned Agencies on the Promotion of Public Transport Safety”. The focus was on giving bus drivers salaries instead of commissions as compensation. This was a result of surveys and FGDs attributing the risk-taking behavior of bus drivers to factors which boil down to how they make money. The statement contains several other non-compensation related pledges including:

  1. the conduct of training on safety and health in the bus transport sector;
  2. the development and administration of a competency-based driver training program that includes, but is not limited to road safety, basic troubleshooting, and road traffic rules and regulations;
  3. the conduct of productivity training on service quality and perform work improvement measurement studies (or time and motion studies);
  4. the rationalization of bus franchises such that these are in accordance with road capacity and ridership requirements;
  5. the tightening enforcement of rules on franchising;
  6. the adoption of international standards on traffic signs, rules and regulations throughout the country to facilitate compliance and maintain a central or unified database system on traffic and traffic-related events that is linked to the franchising and licensing systems by developing inter connectivity of databases on all traffic and traffic-related information; and,
  7. the adoption of designs of road infrastructure and other street facilities which take into consideration road safety.

Phew – somebody must have been reading my traffic-related blogs 🙂 And, while they’re at it, they might as well include the development and administration of a competency-based TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT training program that includes, but is not limited to road traffic rules and regulations for those clueless Keystone Kops in our streets.

This is of course, a welcome start. The devil, as they say, is always in the details. While I’m glad that there is this realization of the ills that plague the public transport system, I am worried that the action plans (not to mention the execution of these) are being farmed out to several committees each composed of the usual alphabet soup government agencies. I fear death by committee.

I continue to maintain that given the multi-faceted nature of this problem that calls for a comprehensive and coordinated solution, the only way that the well-intentioned pledges contained in the Joint Statement don’t get lost in translation would be to have a properly-constituted super-body duly armed with the necessary resources. Anything less will likely lead to a perpetuation of agencies working at cross-purposes or worse, the death of this initiative.

Such would leave us with nothing to look forward to other than the butt of the smoke-belching colorum bus in front of your car.



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