Caught (up) in traffic

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Traffic discipline and technology

January 2011
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In a recent post entitled Replicating success, I stated that the challenge for the government is to replicate the success of the campaign against wangwang or the illegal use of sirens. I indicate a short list of four items that I wished would be part of a Top Ten list of road traffic rules violated by motorists and pedestrians. Perhaps the list should include swerving and aggressive lane changing. Maybe even add to that tailgating and beating both green and red lights at the intersections.

The point is that there are just so many rules and regulations that are ignored by motorists and pedestrians who are used to lax traffic enforcement with the exception of perhaps only a few places in this country. These few places include Subic and for a time, Bonifacio Global City. In 2007, UP Diliman and its partners from the private sector led by the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) and Toyota established a model traffic safety zone in the campus, focusing on the Academic Oval. The initiative included the introduction of traffic schemes such as a one-way counter-clockwise circulation for the oval, and the installation of standard traffic signs and road markings. Training was also provided to the university police force as well as to the traffic enforcers deployed around the oval.

Even without traffic tickets to issue to violators, the university was successful to some degree in enforcing traffic rules and regulations, particularly apprehending and firmly reminding motorists about traffic rules inside the campus. Constituents were also made aware of the issues pertaining to road safety and many stakeholders like students and staff contributed with some even stopping counterflowing vehicles and turning them back despite resistance and even arrogance and profanity in some cases. In most cases, motorists guilty of violating traffic rules and regulations were not even constituents of the university though some claimed to be alumni or relatives of students. These included drivers of vehicles with red plates (indicating they were government vehicles) and young motorists who seem to fit what some people would like to define as stereotypes of people likely to ignore rules. However, it took UP Diliman 3 years to achieve this level of discipline in its roads and there are still many complaints, primarily directed at jeepney drivers who seem to be quite hardheaded when it came to changing their driving behaviors (and habits). Subic was not an overnight success either and yet motorists seem to change when they enter the former military base’s gates and drive along its streets.

The question now is whether wangwang is just a fluke, a lucky punch in boxing parlance. Our enforcement agencies are often accused of being ningas cogon, a common practice where enthusiasm and activity is present only at the start but rapidly wanes as time passes by, much like how grass burns strongly at first but fizzles out later. Surely, this is not a case of sustainable traffic management.

The challenge, therefore, is still on sustainability but also and always building capacity to be firm and consistent with enforcing traffic rules and regulations. Such includes the use of emerging technologies that enable non-contact apprehension (and the MMDA is right on in this aspect) but should also lead to more aggressive campaigns to ensure public awareness and comprehension that they are being monitored. But more than this, it should be emphasized that those monitoring should be competent and fair in their observations such that non-contact apprehension will succeed and will not be subject to ridicule by a knowledgeable public who are already wary of abuses by government. It is very important that at this stage when IT is being introduced to enhance traffic management including public transport and logistics, that technology is not misconstrued as invasive and a tool for corruption. That way, we can move forward and perhaps, in the near future, enable intelligent transport systems to enhance traffic and safety in our roads.


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