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Discipline along a killer highway

January 2011
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Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City was given a tag as a killer highway due to the frequent occurrence of road crashes along the road, many of them resulting in fatalities. Only last December, a retired judge was about to cross the highway on his vehicle, his wife (a retired teacher from a prestigious science high school) with him as they were heading to church. It was very early in the morning since they were going to the Simbang Gabi or night mass – a tradition in the Philippines during the Advent Season leading up to Christmas Day. Despite probably signalling and their being cautious enough, their vehicle was hit by a speeding bus. The driver of the bus was to claim later that he used his lights and horns to warn the judge against crossing. There was no mention if the bus driver attempted to slow down, the safest thing to do when driving at night and knowing that there are many crossings along the road he is traversing. In fact, this should be the first thing on the mind of anyone aware and conscious about safe driving.

There are many incidents like the one above and not just along Commonwealth or other Metro Manila road. Road crashes occur along many of our national and local roads everyday and the casualties just pile up, and many are often just treated as statistics especially when nothing is done to address the issue. Such road crashes occur due to many factors that are usually categorized into human, vehicle or environment-related. Most often, as findings in the Philippines indicate, it is the human factor that results in a road crash.

Driver error, poor maintenance of vehicles, and ill-designed roads can all be traced to human shortcomings. Environmental factors are also ultimately rooted on the human element. Speeding is one thing and aggressive driving is probably another but altogether general driver behavior along Philippine roads are clearly a manifestation of a lack of discipline and not necessarily the lack of skill, although the latter is also a significant factor if one is to focus on public transport and trucks.

There are few exceptions and it seems “few” is a relative term often leading to the example of Subic. At Subic, we always wonder how and why drivers seem to be disciplined. Some say it is because of the fines or penalties for traffic violations. Others say it is psychological and a legacy of the base being previously under the US military. I would say it is more of the traffic rules and regulations being enforced firmly and fairly in the free port area. I would add that motorists and pedestrians have embedded this in their consciousness such that there is something like an invisible switch turning on when they drive in Subic and turning off once they are out of the free port.

For a corridor like Commonwealth, perhaps the best example to emulate would be the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Along that highway, its operators the Tollways Management Corporation (TMC) have established a strict regimen of enforcement and have applied state of the art tools for both monitoring and apprehension. These tools include high speed cameras equipped with speed radars that detect speeds and capture on photo cases of overspeeding. Photos are used as evidence upon the apprehension of the guilty party at the exit of the expressway.

The current campaign along Commonwealth is premised on the strict enforcement of a 60 kph speed limit along the arterial and the designation of PUV lanes (e.g., yellow lanes) along the length of the corridor. The initiative would be manpower intensive and features novel tools such as the use of placards, ¬†loudspeakers and public relations in order to encourage motorists and pedestrians to follow traffic rules and regulations. The results as of today look promising and there has been a significant reduction in speeds and general compliance for PUVs serving the corridor. The numbers might be misleading if we attempt to conclude about the success of the program now. Perhaps the more reliable statistics would come out after the campaign has been implemented and the effort sustained over a month’s time. Nevertheless, it gives us a nice feeling to see less speeding and less weaving among vehicles that were once observed as though they were driven along a race track. It would be nice to once and for all kill the “killer highway” tag and make Commonwealth an example of how traffic management should be implemented. We are always searching for examples of good if not best practices that can be replicated elsewhere. If we succeed in the “Battle of Commonwealth” then perhaps we could eventually win the “War Against Irresponsible Driving and Jaywalking.”


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