Road safety = self defense
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - May 20, 2019 - 12:00am

I don’t suppose any one has ever put it that way, but when you think road safety you are actually engaging in “Self Defense.” Whether you are a motorist, commuter or pedestrian, no one can protect you better than yourself. Just like in martial arts, you still get bumps and bruises during contact, but knowing what to do at the right time and place determines if you walk away or end up dead cold.

I was recently invited to give a talk in Lipa City during the observation of the Road Safety Month which was hosted by the Land Transportation Office Region IV where I joined DOTR Usec Mark De Leon, LTO Regional Director Eric Lenard Tabaldo and Assistant  Regional Director Francisco Ranches along with 800 plus participants representing law enforcers, local officials and motorcycle groups from the Calabarzon area. Aside from being well attended, the event drew the interest of students many of who commute or ride motorcycles to schools.

As I prepared my Power Point presentation the day before, I realized that my support for road safety goes beyond being in media and a car enthusiast. I reviewed my life in the context of road safety and I was reminded of so many tragedies and accidents that I witnessed first hand or involved someone close to me. I remembered that the first accident I ever saw was when I was in kindergarten in Don Bosco Technical Institute in Mandaluyong City. I was standing by the sidewalk with my Mom or an elder waiting for a ride I suppose, when I saw an older boy from the same school dart across the street and was hit by a jeepney. The boy lay crumpled on the asphalt and I was immediately pulled away from the scene, never to find out if he lived to tell the tale or died on the spot.

You might say that that is why we should also cross on the pedestrian lane. Well, in this country the presumption that you are safe when you cross on the pedestrian lane could get you killed or almost killed like me. The one time I made a conscious effort to cross on the pedestrian lane was in 1973 right in front of the old Pantranco bus terminal on Quezon Boulevard. I looked before crossing and tried to cross as fast as possible on the zebra stripes when out of nowhere came a speeding car, like a scud missile with my name on it. Next thing I knew I was tumbling in the air, my crucifix swinging 3 times before my eyes and me saying: “this is it!” Then I hear a gun shot from a policeman who tried to stop the vehicle! Yes in those days you could get shot for a hit and run! Much like basketball it was no harm no foul. But this is also the reason why I have been asking the DPWH, Mayors and businessmen to promote the practice of building or making elevated pedestrian crossings that would be 1 1/2 meter wide by 6 inches thick. Some towns have them already and they are so effective at making drivers slow down or stopping!

If there is anything that convinced me to use a seat belt it would have to be the incident I learned about after I came out of the operating table back in ’72. I found out that a dear friend was in the same hospital to look after her sister who was in a car accident where a child was thrown straight through the windshield. The driver was careful and not speeding but it was a rainy day, the concrete was slippery and the car they drove had a reputation for doing doughnuts or circle 8’s even before the term drifting was coined. Years later several acquaintances would individually be in car crashes and suffer serious injury and facial cuts simply for lack of a seat belt! Nowadays, I have friends who won’t buy a car unless it has 8 to 10 airbags!

One of the saddest life stories I know involved a friend who started driving when he was 16 if not younger. He came from an affluent family so it was no big deal for them until one day while passing on the right (and correct) lane next to a bus, a passenger suddenly jumped out. The outcome was horrible. The passenger died! My friend was psychologically scarred for life, ended up an alcoholic and a manic-depressive. The passenger lost his life while my friend never enjoyed the rest of his life. Often we only think of the injured or the so-called victims but at least a third if not half of the people charged in accidents are actually innocent people who ultimately become victims financially if not psychologically. This is also why I HATE lazy ass cops and traffic enforcers who automatically charge drivers with “Reckless Imprudence” resulting in whatever, even if the facts of the case show that it was not their fault! The worst thing I found out was that this automatic charge is often done so that the poor “victim” would have some ground or reason to ask for money or some form of reparations! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Finally, I have to tell the true story of a High School Senior I once stopped in front of our place in Lipa for driving his motorcycle at excessive speeds and without a helmet. I literally flagged him down and in the most fatherly tone, explained to him why I stopped him. After our short talk, he promised that he would wear a helmet and pull back on his “Need For Speed.” I was glad we had that talk because it was an effort well worth it. That turned out to be his last lecture on Road Safety. That young man graduated High School after our talk and a month later died in a head on collision at the nearby highway. There is truth in the words: The life you save could be yours!

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