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On high definition cameras to improve traffic enforcement and management

February 2014
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Watching the news one evening, I saw a report that featured traffic enforcers being caught on camera extorting money from drivers caught violating traffic rules and regulations. Extortion, “kotong” or “pangongotong” is not a new thing. It is actually a given to many motorist, particularly those who spend a lot of time on the road like drivers of public utility vehicles and trucks. In many cases, the enforcer or police officer is already or automatically assumed to be an extortionist even without the subtle suggestions via talk or body language. Motorists simply slip a bill with their license or in the form of a handshake to the apprehending officer. This, of course, translates into bribery, which is also a crime for both parties involved.

Traffic violations carry penalties in the form of fines that vary in amount depending on the violation. Usually, the amount is commensurate to the bribe or the “suggested” amount being extorted by the apprehending enforcer(s). In other cases, a larger amount is “suggested,” often to remind the erring motorist Of course, this assumes that the motorist is indeed guilty or in any case (guilty or not) didn’t want to waste time and opts for the perceived easy way out. However, there have also been cases when corrupt enforcers/officers meet their match in motorists who are aware of their rights and are knowledgable of traffic laws (e.g., lawyers, etc.) or are well-connected and simply show business cards of influential people (e.g., politicians, high government officials, police or military officers, etc.) to get out of a traffic bind. These instances actually reveal that many enforcers/officers are not so familiar with traffic rules and regulations so are unable to justify their apprehensions beyond their very basic knowledge.

The MMDA has made a lot of effort in trying to simplify the process of paying the penalties with the guilty party now being allowed to take the ticket and pay the fine through accredited banks within a certain grace period. Traffic enforcers can no longer take your driver’s license (Note: Only Land Transportation Office officers and deputized personnel may confiscate licenses.) and this eliminated the long lines of drivers  at the MMDA offices to get back their confiscated licenses. This has also reduced the incidence of extortion as many private motorists can just opt to have tickets issued to by the apprehending officer. The latter is basically no longer allowed to collect money and contact time is also reduced. There is a grace period for the erring driver so he/she has to pay the fine within this period or else risk being flagged by the LTO itself.

The new camera system that the MMDA has in place is part of Phase 1 of its traffic signalization project. With this project, the MMDA hopes to upgrade the network of traffic signals in Metro Manila and have in place a dynamic, adaptive system to better address traffic circulation in the metropolis. This is actually a departure from a past program that was premised on the continuous traffic flow that was supposedly derived from U-turns masquerading as rotundas or roundabouts. Though the sensors and software for the traffic signal system are not yet in place, the MMDA already has a new traffic control center just across its building at the corner of EDSA and Orense Street in Makati City, from where they can now monitor traffic conditions using high definition cameras installed across the metro.

Davao has been in the forefront of using such high definition cameras for traffic management as well as for monitoring the behavior of traffic enforcers and motorists. Their traffic  management center has been operational for the past few years and I’ve had the chance to have a look at how the city is able to monitor traffic conditions in that city. With this tool, they are able to address issues by deploying personnel on sight or by changing the setting of traffic signals. In certain cases, they can watch out for incidents like road crashes or monitor apprehensions to make sure both apprehending personnel and erring motorists are honest and no anomalies are encountered.

img03471-20120711-1415Davao’s cameras have been used to monitor not just erring motorists and pedestrians but also erring traffic enforcers and policemen who might be preying on road users. The city has also been able to use their system to record and evaluate incidences of road crashes.

Perhaps in the near future, many other cities would be able to acquire and apply such tools in traffic management. I think the larger and highly urbanized cities in the country already require sophisticated systems for traffic. Unfortunately, there is always the issue of having limited resources, which usually discourages a city from investing in expensive systems, often opting for basic signals for their intersections. Such basic systems, however, can be optimized if city personnel in-charge of these have the knowledge or capability for setting signals to be synchronized with each other. These are fundamentals necessary for whoever will be dealing with traffic engineering and management in these cities. Also, there are now ongoing researches at universities with some now sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging technology Research and Development (PCIEERD) seeking to produce traffic systems at lower costs. These should eventually be deployed in our cities to help alleviate traffic problems.

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