Stay off Philippine roads and live longer
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-11-11

If countries made the travel advisory to STAY OFF PHILIPPINE ROADS — no doubt Filipinos, including the government, will raise a howl of protest.

It is bad enough that countries like the US, Australia and the UK are prone to over exaggerate our conflict problems with the Communist insurgency, the Moro separatists and the terrorists like the Abu Sayyaf when they issue those travel warnings.

A travel advisory that warns Philippine visitors of the perils that will kill or maim them on our roads could well destroy the recent gains in our tourism campaign. Fear of our roads by both foreigners and locals could also curtail people’s movement which in turn will negatively affect economic activity.

But then, how do we avoid getting tagged as a country with the most dangerous roads in the world (save for those under war conditions perhaps) if the truth is TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS ARE NOW THE FOURTH CAUSE OF DEATH? And no less than our own Department of Health confirmed that!

In a recent Safety Seminar held at the University of the Philippines, Dr. Cecile Magturo confirmed the sad statistics about Philippine traffic accidents. A lot of the traffic accidents were attributed to sleepy and tired drivers — fatigue caused by long driving hours. Health officials even warned that if unchecked, traffic accidents can become the biggest cause of death here by 2010.

Over the last two weeks alone, many of us saw on the primetime television newscasts how public buses and trailer vans have caused the loss of lives on the road. On the NLEX, a Catholic priest and all of his passengers died after a head on collision with a bus. The bus driver suddenly went to the lane for opposite traffic without looking if there was an oncoming vehicle. On a metro road, a prominent eye doctor was killed by a bus driver who was racing with another bus driver from the same company.

Data from the NSCB (National Statistical Coordination Board), a 2006 summary, showed that out of a total of 15,064 traffic accidents, there were a total of 674 fatalities, 3,767 injuries and 10,623 recorded as damage to property. Human error (27.8%) was the single biggest cause for the traffic accidents compared to vehicle defect (15.8%), over speeding (13%) and self accident (7.4%%). Over speeding and self accident can be considered also as human errors.

The majority of traffic accidents in 2006, 60.4%, occurred in daytime while 39.6% occurred in night time. This reinforces findings that traffic accidents are mostly man-made. Under daytime conditions, poor visibility cannot be invoked by reckless drivers.

The traffic accident problem needs to be approached at different levels. New legislation to impose stiffer penalties may not really solve the root causes of the problem with higher fines or even longer jail terms for those found guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in either homicide or physical injuries.

A new law could impose bigger liabilities on the transport operator for deaths and injuries resulting from reckless imprudence. Stiffer conditions for keeping their franchises will scare any businessman and will compel the operator to institute reforms in order to continue doing business.

But what if the relatively low cost of public transport fare here is what compels the transport operator to extend the working hours of their drivers? A stiffer fine or more stern sanctions will not solve the problem but may exacerbate into a series of closures of transport firms who can no longer operate viably. Because of our economic conditions, transport firms here are forced to resort to purchasing cheaper or second hand vehicles and other cost-cutting measures.

The values of Philippine drivers have to be addressed if we are to solve our traffic problem. Take the case of this new craze among jeepney drivers who try to imitate car rally drivers by irresponsibly running zigzag — oblivious to the risks of an accident. These jeepney drivers are unmindful that their vehicles are some of the most accident prone after having been locally modified to lengths and loads that were not originally designed for the vehicle. Because of this local modification, jeepney drivers do not even need another vehicle to collide with in order to kill or maim.

In a responsible government that sets the right transport standards, the jeepney would have been banned from the road. In a responsible authoritarian government like China, these irresponsible jeepney drivers who place their passengers on unnecessary risks by zigzag driving will be banned from ever driving again. Their attitude will surely kill or maim regardless if the vehicle driven is a jeepney or a Mercedes Benz.

There used to be a joke about how people obtained driving licenses here even if they do not possess the right driving skills and psychological make up. In local parlance, gear shifts are known as primera (first gear), segunda (second gear), tercera (third gear) and quarta (fourth gear).

The applicant does the primera, segunda, tercera and when asked to show the quarta (which also means money when spelled kwarta) — the applicant inserts P200 inside the pocket of the test conductor. Driving test was passed with flying colors!

In reality, many will attest that the method used in that popular joke was how they acquired their driving licenses. Now, the deadly ‘joke’ is upon us who need to use Philippine roads and transports.

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