Elephants in the room

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

The elephant in the room is the uncomfortable truth that no one wants to talk about much less deal with. As suggested by the column title, there are several truths or reality that people don’t want to recognize or deal with.

There is the controversial Sudden Unintended Acceleration and four elephants or related matters that authorities and the media in general find difficult to deal with.

The Congressional Committee on Trade and Industry has scheduled a second hearing tomorrow concerning the controversial SUA incidents or Sudden Unintended Acceleration. The guest list has been expanded to include the CAMPI (Car Manufacturers of the Philippines), AVID (Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors), AAP ( Automobile Association of the Philippines) as well as the Chairman of the Insurance Commission whom I heard has been or will be subpoenaed to attend.

Given the expanded guest list, tomorrow maybe the right time to introduce two elephants in the congressional hearing that people have not really talked about or put under scrutiny. All the investigations and media reports have focused on pinning the problem as the manufacturer’s fault but nothing has been said about two matters that should be given serious consideration.

First would be the relevance or impact of vehicle insurance or the lack thereof. At the height of the SUA controversy someone had suggested that part of what complicated or inflamed the problem and the vehicle owners was the difficulty of making a claim with insurance companies for “SELF-ACCIDENTS.”

Insurance generally covered for accidents involving another vehicle or party, but once it involved a self-accident with substantial cost or damage, the owners had to go through the eye of a needle so to speak starting with law enforcers, accident investigators and insurance investigators. Many car owners mistakenly assume that if you’re insured especially for “comprehensive insurance,” it would be fast and hassle free. No way!

In  “self-accident” cases the process was tedious and with no other party at fault or to blame, the insurance companies were not inclined to pay out, leaving the owners to their own devices. In the face of law suits and loses, what other recourse would drivers have but to presume or possibly claim SUA.

The big elephant is when 40 to 50 percent of the 92 SUA claims filed between 2009 and 2014 involved vehicles that had no insurance or were grossly under insured. When I first checked to verify this hunch, I learned that only 50 vehicles out of 92 claims had insurance while 39 had no insurance coverage.

It may serve the public a lot of good if Congress also investigated the difficulty or complex journey that many vehicle owners go through when making a claim. I for one know how long it normally takes to be paid when your vehicle gets car-napped not to mention the process of filing a report where many victims or owners have to deal with “missing” investigators and corrupt insurance adjusters and investigators.

Relative to the insurance issue, members of Congress may want to investigate the extremely high cost of insurance, the multiple government taxes as well as multi-level commissions earned by sellers and resellers starting from the LTO, the dealership, agents and insurance companies. Chairman Mark Villar might also want to investigate why vehicle insurance has regressed to bare minimum Third Party Liability (TPL) instead of progressing to mandatory – No Fault coverage.

The second elephant that also needs to be recognized and studied in the interest of fairness and balance is the very real possibility of “Driver’s Error.” Until an independent third party engineering investigation arrives at a conclusion, Congress and media cannot unfairly presume and prejudge that SUA exists and is the manufacturer’s fault and that no one else could contribute to such incidents.

As unpopular and seemingly controversial as it may be, those in the judgment seat or the opinion makers must bear in mind or remember the many airline, ship or train disasters where experts have ruled that accidents or catastrophes were due to “Pilot Error,” the Ship Captain’s Error, or the Train Engineers error. Even in the hands of well trained professionals, error have occurred.  This actually brings out another elephant in the room: the level of training for drivers and vehicle owners. How well trained and educated are today’s drivers relative to automotive technology and advance engine power? Have we studied the transition of drivers from manual to automatic, from using cars/sedans in driving school but driving SUVs particularly inside the crowded Metro Manila. Are car buyers aware that yesterday’s slow-poke diesel is a dinosaur to today’s turbo charged diesel engines?

Given that we already have 3 elephants in the ring, may I politely point out the elephant behind the curtain?  Based on the World Health Global Status Report on Road Safety for 2015, an estimated 53 percent of people who died on the road in the Philippines were motorcycle riders. WHO estimates the annual death toll at 10,379 while the government death tally is reportedly 1,513. Depending on whose figures we rely on, we either have 13.8 motorcycle riders dying in Philippine roads everyday or 2 people riding motorcycles getting killed everyday for 365 days.

Many of them are tax paying employees, income earners who support the economy and their families. Thousands of Filipinos are lining up to buy even more motorcycles and this year, unless we all do something about it, 750 riders and passengers or more will die a tragic and painful death. So how come no one is leading a mob or a witch hunt to deal with the problem?

Why is it that we in media especially broadcast have chosen to CATEGORIZE motorcycle accidents under “Police Report” and not as a serious safety issue  that requires the same focus and attention they give for their special reports or their “campaigns.” Aside from the safety issue, no one has yet exposed on mass media the usury that is being practiced by “resellers” of repos and hataks who add a 30% mark up on motorcycles or scooters. No extra effort or tough laws have been passed to discourage the non-stop theft of motorcycles or to investigate the level of product safety and driver training that goes into these sales.

Is this not a form of class discrimination? Do we deal with these elephants in the room or simply put up a circus?

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E-mail: [email protected]


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