Expect more deaths from chaotic traffic system
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - January 9, 2020 - 12:00am

Infractions on current traffic and driving laws happen on a daily basis in the Philippines, and the last World Health Organization (WHO) status report even notes that road traffic deaths in the country have been increasing over the years even as new laws are being passed.

Road safety advocates point to enforcement as the primary reason for the rising number of traffic accidents, but the need to update a number of provisions may also prove to be crucial in saving lives and bringing down the number of road-related injuries.

In the area of enforcement, a reduced state budget is tagged as the main culprit, and the recent abolition of the Road Board by Congress has further diverted a significant amount of funding that goes to enforcement agencies involved in land transportation safety.

There are too few traffic enforcers for the number of vehicles plying the roads, especially in urban areas like Metro Manila where population density is aggravated by far too many private vehicles plying the main thoroughfares especially during the rush hours.

Enforcement through technology

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has been beefing up its enforcement capabilities largely by installing more close circuit television (CCTV) cameras to support its No Contact Traffic Apprehension Policy, and while there have been more violations caught, sending out the tickets has been slow, taking at least six months from the date the traffic offence was made.

Still, with all the information (including a photo) that becomes a basis for the issued ticket, it is difficult to refute culpability. Even if the offender received the notice after a considerably long time, it is a hard-to-forget lesson especially when the fine is big enough to empty one’s wallet.

Technology hardware like CCTVs and linked software are certainly one of the best solutions for the government to save on spending for traffic enforcement, although this has to be supplemented by better traffic management rules.

For example, the yellow lane traffic rule has caused unreasonable traffic build-up on some lanes, while leaving others with almost no vehicles. In some local government areas, violations caught by CCTV cameras have become contentious revenue-raising schemes.

A private vehicle owner on EDSA who sticks to traffic rules by not going inside the yellow lanes can find his patience severely tested when he realizes that the reserved lanes for buses are practically empty.

Outdated penalties

Now that CCTVs are becoming a crucial tool for traffic enforcement, updating penalties on traffic infractions is another area that needs to be improved.

The MMDA has been able to issue about 75,000 tickets under its No Contact scheme, with a large part of these having to do with disregarding traffic signs and obstruction, which unfortunately carries a fine of only P150 for the first, second and third offences.

These penalties are enshrined in many road laws, including the antiquated 54-year-old Land Transportation and Traffic Code. One of the more outrageous penalties is for reckless driving, which carries fines of P500 (first offense), P750 and suspension of driver’s license (second offense), and P1,000 plus revocation of driver’s license (third offense) – definitely not commensurate to the consequences that ensues from its violation.

Some of the more current laws have been updated, like the fine for driving without a valid license (P3,000 and a one-year ban from driving and getting a license). Yet, there are those that impose ridiculously low fines, like P20 when you park on a sidewalk.

Updating the Code

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is for lawmakers to provide some mechanism that would automatically increase penalties, perhaps tied to inflation. First, though, Congress must set aside time to prioritize the rationalization of the traffic code.

Six presidents have come into power since the code was first passed, and updating it has come in the form of supplemental laws, like the Seat Belts Use Act of 1999, the Motorcycle Helmet Act of 2009, the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2013, the Children’s Safety on Motorcycles Act of 2015, and the Anti-Distracted Driving Act of 2016.

A cursory check on the above shows a high level of non-compliance that has been abetted by low penalties, inability of enforcers to apprehend suspected violators, too few enforcers, corruption, and, in the case of the Anti-Distracted Driving Act, a flawed legislation.

With the law that prohibits driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there are too few enforcement officers on patrol at night when these violations are most common. Increasing the number of breath analyzers is not the key.

The 2009 law that requires drivers and passengers of motorcycles to wear helmets is already outdated since it does not cover electronic bicycles that carry the same risks for users especially when plying busy streets. 

The 1999 law that requires the use of seat belts is already technically unsafe. Very few are aware that children below six years of age are not allowed to sit up front beside the driver, even if carried by the front seat passenger. Jeepney drivers do not even ask front seat passengers to buckle up.

If our government were committed to keeping its citizens alive and away from accident risks, the task of keeping roads safe should be prioritized. Putting order in such a chaotic system is one of the best legacies that our lawmakers can leave.

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