February 25, 2018, 10:03 am
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ROAD SAFETY SERIES: Road safety consciousness still not in the Pinoy driver’s psyche

TODAY, Vera Files and the World Health Organization (WHO) is conducting the “Media as Partner in Road Safety Advocacy” forum in the middle of one of the most traffic prone areas in the metropolis, Mandaluyong. Bounded by Pasig on one end and Ortigas on the other, the choke points around are also well known for the number of road crashes, both non-fatal, and sadly fatal.

The forum seeks to update participants in policies, legislation and programs intended to reduce and prevent road crashes. Road Safety Journalism fellows will serve as panelists in a dialogue that will also provide a venue to identify and delve into under-reported topics related to road safety. The highlight will be a handbook produced by Vera Files for journalists on covering road safety issues entitled “Keeping our roads safe: A guide for journalists in the Philippines.” 

Road safety necessarily begins with the road user—the drivers, pedestrians, bikers and motorcyclists, who share a constant piece of pavement the size of a small house. In that one block of road, buses, jeepneys, cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, not to mention, ambulant vendors, pedicabs, tricycles and even animal-drawn conveyances.

Topics to be discussed in the forum include the current road safety situation in the country, focusing on policy and various legislation such as the pending child restraints bill, and the road safety action plan finalized by the Department of Transportation (DOTr). 

There is one topic that comes up often in road safety discussions during Vera Files road safety forums—that of the role of the Filipino driver’s psyche in the total picture of road safety. From June to September this year, Malaya Business Insight conducted three surveys covering road safety related issues including road rage, driving habits and in an attempt to understand the Filipino public utility driver, small sample surveys of bus and jeepney drivers in Manila and Laguna.  

To paint a picture from the last survey may be inconclusive, due to the extremely small sample size (a total of 93 jeepney drivers in Manila plying the Taft to Quiapo, and Taft to Divisoria routes; 46 drivers plying the Marikina to Quiapo route; 84 drivers from the Taft to Monumento route; 26 drivers from the San Pablo, Laguna to Los Banos, Laguna and 46 drivers along the San Pablo to Tanauan, Batangas routes 22 bus drivers from the Calamba to Lawton route; 12 drivers plying the Baclaran to Monumento route; 32 bus drivers in the Lucena to Manila and back bus route, 12 drivers plying the North Luzon routes and, 56 tricycle drivers from San Pablo and 52 from the City of Manila, 11 from Batangas). Also interviewed were 12 taxi and 166 Uber drivers. This data is not enough to get a statistically accurate picture of driving habits.

But to make a composite of the results of several surveys lead to a simple conclusion.

Safety is not foremost in the minds of the common Filipino driver.

The point of the Vera Files and WHO collaboration and the creation of the Road Safety Journalism Fellowship are to actively educate the public and lead to safer roads, less lives lost by creating a heightened consciousness about road safety. By accurately reporting road crash incidents by providing factual data Vera Files organizers believe they can help push both legislation to formalize road safety rules and information and education to make for better drivers.

This motivation is important because if the composite information from the various surveys conducted were a barometer for the common Pinoy drivers’ knowledge, understanding and implementation of road safety, the conclusion is this: Filipino drivers do not care about road safety.

In the survey for driving habits, only 28 percent of the 1,670 respondents said that passing on the right is dangerous, and is seen as “an accepted practice.” Drivers who regularly did this say that the slow car on the fast lane is to blame. This is especially true for motorcyclists who oftentimes use the right lane as their personal escape from the traffic. 

Sixteen percent of public utility drivers say that renewing their license is pretty easy despite having violations. In fact almost 78 percent of the private vehicle owners interviewed said that they had absolutely no trouble getting a license because the test was too easy (42 percent), you can pay your way to a license (62 percent) and that there is not real driver’s training process (88 percent) citing that truck drivers can move into driving big lorries and trailers, which in other countries require not only proven skill but also proven experience.

A mere 12 percent of those public utility vehicle drivers and less than 11 percent of private car drivers pay attention to right of way (RoW) and respect the “yellow box” on road intersections. Understanding right-of-way is a fundamental of road safety. The inability to process RoW leads to serious road crash incidents, many resulting in fatalities. Habits such as “stop on stop sign,” “yield” and “merge alternate” are alien to many drivers.

Notably, the survey also reveals that in both public utility drivers and private vehicle owners the road safety most drivers view pedestrians as nuisances and have very little respect for pedestrian lanes. 84 percent believed that pedestrian lanes are a cause of traffic and 77 percent admit to the dangerous habit of “pinahan” or clipping pedestrians who are walking on the roads because there are no sidewalks, or rushing through a crosswalk even when there are pedestrians.

Similarly other faulty, discourteous behavior that has a direct impact on road safety is adherence to the speed limit. Only 46 percent of those surveyed said they abide by the speed limits even in the city streets either because they didn’t know or didn’t recognize a sign. Eighty nine percent say they will drive beyond the speed limit at night when the roads are empty.

Public utility vehicle drivers rarely do not make a “pre-flight inspection” of their jeepneys.  Only 8 percent do. Bus company drivers were excluded from this portion of the survey because these inspection checks are usually standard operating procedure. 

An interesting counterpoint to this data gathering episode is the discovery that most public utility do not wear seatbelts properly and tampering with the safety device is a common practice. Seventy six percent of all provincial bus drivers either do not use or have tampered with the seatbelt to make it more comfortable. 100 percent of taxi drivers interviewed said they already disabled to driver’s seatbelt, and in most occasions have made mock seatbelts just to fool enforcers. 

As regards to child safety restraints, nearly 60 percent of those interviewed say that the law should be reviewed and compliance optional based on type of vehicle, location, age of child and other items. About 42 percent of private vehicle owners surveyed say that such a law is a “hassle” for managing kids as it “takes away a lot of space in the car.” 

A last interesting discovery is the inability of the Filipino driver to pay attention to and implement slowing down and stopping at stop sign streets. Jemah Lachica, a 32-year old driver in Los Banos said that as long as the roads are clear, it is fine not to slow down on such marked streets. The law states otherwise, but this simple road rule is violated in almost all parts of the country with impunity. Subic was once the bastion of traffic safety and road discipline. Those days are gone now. 

It is timely that Road Safety Advocacy Forum is being conducted right after a series of fatal road crashes spanning a month, and some within days of each other. These crashes, that have so far claimed over ten lives including that of an unrestrained 8-year old child and several minors, were all avoidable.

Given proper training, vehicle maintenance, road courtesy and respect, road crashes can be reduced. But it is the correct mindset during driving that is conscious and deliberate towards safety first that may be the solution to end disasters on the road.
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