Caught (up) in traffic

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On trucks and road safety again

The past days saw many trucks being involved in crashes along my commuting route. My social media feed also gives me updates on the traffic situation in my home city. And there are many reports of the same – trucks involved in road crashes or stalled due to a variety of reasons (engine problems, flat tires, etc.) . It is not an understatement to say that such incidents are a matter of concern especially since these may have been fatal (i.e., deaths due to road crashes). Here are a couple of photos we took as we passed a truck on its side along Ortigas Avenue Extension along one of my usual commuting routes.

It is fortunate that this did not result in any fatality but from the photos one can surmise the potential or likelihood of serious injuries if not death/s. Such underlines the importance of both proper maintenance and operations of these vehicles including how they are loaded. Shifting or unbalanced loads on moving trucks negotiating turns or maneuvering, for example, will result in loss of control and overturning that also leads to traffic congestion. Are the drivers competent, awake, alert? Or are they sleep or perhaps driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances?

On ways to make streets safer

Here’s a quick share of an article suggesting a simple way to make streets safer:

Berg, N. (April 27, 2022) “The ridiculously simple way to make streets safer for pedestrians,” Fast Company, https://www.fastcompany.com/90745296/the-ridiculously-simple-way-to-make-streets-safer-for-pedestrians [Last accessed 5/1/2022]

To quote from the article: “Art projects painted onto streets and intersections significantly improve safety, reducing the rate of crashes involving cars and pedestrians by up to 50% and all crashes by 17%, according to the study.”

The article’s sub title states that you only need a bucket of paint rather than expensive new traffic signals or road blocks to keep pedestrians safe. I remember there were similar attempts to do the same in Antipolo prior to the pandemic. A group painted on the pedestrian crossings along major roads in the city. These, however, appeared to be somewhat invisible to most motorists and did not succeed to slow down traffic. Perhaps, as the article states, the artwork needs to be more visible or conspicuous in addition to its being comprehensive for intersections as the examples in the article show. These cannot be piecemeal or appear as publicity stunts for them to influence driver behavior and help improve safety.

Road safety history – first fatality and crash

Have you ever wondered when the first road crash involving a motor vehicle occurred? Or who was the first person to die (i.e., fatality) in a car crash? Here’s a brief but informative article on this topic:

Sal (April 15, 2022) “Who Was the First Person Ever to Die in a Car Crash?” Medium.com, https://sal.medium.com/who-was-the-first-person-ever-to-die-in-a-car-crash-8385add6cbcb [Last accessed: 4/20/2022]

Were you surprised about the 3 mph speed of the car that ran over the first fatality involving a car? That’s really slow considering the speeds of vehicles these days and how high speed limits are along streets where there are many pedestrians. Meanwhile, the circumstances about the first crash appears to be similar to what we still have now. That is, reckless driving, increasing speed limits and (truth be told) pedestrians not being aware of their surroundings (say what you will but the car was traveling at 4 mph and there was a claim that the driver tried to get the attention of the victim to no avail). I agree though with the author that this was a portent of worse things to come as road crashes has become a top killer and health concern.

More frequent road crashes?

My personal observations during my commutes lead to a conclusion that there is indeed an increase in the number of road crashes and perhaps this is attributable to the conditions during this pandemic. During my almost daily trips the past weeks, I have witnessed or passed by road crash incidents. These mostly involved motorcycles but last Friday, there was severe congestion along Ortigas Avenue due to a large truck that slammed into a post and ended up blocking most of the westbound lanes of the road. Yesterday, my wife sent me photos of a truck on its side after also being involved in a crash where it was reported that the driver lost control of the vehicle. Also involved, based on the Taytay report posted on their social media page, was a tricycle whose passengers sustained minor injuries. The incident could easily have been fatal to those involved considering the truck hitting the tricycle.

Approaching the crash site – the Taytay Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (MDRRMO) looks to be on the job to address the situation
A closer look at the overturned truck

So are these incidents to be called accidents like how media and local governments still label them? These appear to be preventable. For one, vehicle-related problems could have been addressed by proper maintenance of the vehicle. But then there is also the question of whether the drivers or riders involved in these crashes were practicing safe driving or riding. Were they speeding or doing any risky maneuver? Were they aggressive or reckless? These are but a few factors that come into play and that led to a crash such as the one shown in the preceding photos.

On why people are afraid to bike

There is an interesting graphic shared by a friend on his social media account. I am also sharing it here. The source may be found at the bottom right of the graphic.

I think the graphic speaks for itself. How can we encourage people to bike whether for commuting or other utilitarian purpose if there are nuts behind the wheels of many motor vehicles? All the points raised in the graphic are true for the Philippines and are not limited to drivers of private vehicles. These are also the same for public transport drivers as well. And these cannot be solved or addressed overnight. You have to get to the roots of the problem, which are about the driver and rider education (i.e., training), and the licensing system of the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

While there are driving and riding schools that have proliferated, many seem to just go through the motions of driver and rider education. Prospective motor vehicle drivers and riders often just learn enough to pass a flawed examination to get their licenses. Do they really learn about how to behave properly when driving or riding? It certainly does not show with how they deal with cyclists and pedestrians. As for enforcement, well that’s another topic to discuss in a separate post.

On phantom congestion

I’ve talked about phantom congestion in my class lectures and training modules but have always explained it through figures and diagrams I usually draw on the board as I discuss the topic with my students or trainees. Here is a very informative, very visual explanation of what typically happens along many roads and how there is congestion when there seems to be no reason at all for these traffic jams:

Have you experienced these phantom traffic jams yourself?

Painted lines are not enough for bike lanes

From the experiences of many biking or trying to bike in the Philippines, painted lines are not enough for bike lanes. Only recently, cyclists using bike lanes that did not have any physical barriers to deter motorists from encroaching have been involved in crashes, with at least a couple being reported as fatal for the cyclists. Here is an article on what cyclists need in order to ensure or at least improve the safety of their commutes.

UTC (2020) “White lines? Cyclists need more,” ITS International,¬†https://www.itsinternational.com/its8/feature/white-lines-cyclists-need-more [Last accessed: 8/6/2020]

Commuters on bicycles along the Marcos Highway bridge bike lane

Are there differences regarding cycling in different countries? From a somewhat cultural-behavioral perspective, perhaps there are studies (though I am not aware of them yet) about how peoples from different countries or cities behave with respect to cyclists whether or not there are bike lanes designated for the latter’s use. I recall my experiences cycling in Japan and drivers are generally respectful of cyclists on the roads. Pedestrians, too, are very tolerant of cyclists on the sidewalks or designated areas for walking. Of course, the cyclist would have to do their share of respecting others’ spaces, too, and should behave and position themselves accordingly while traveling.

On bicycles slowing down cars

There is a perception that cyclists tend to slow down other vehicles, mainly motorized, along roads. Again, such can be the experience of some that have been generalized and accepted as fact in most cases. However, if we look closely at the evidence, the perception may not be true for most cases after all. This article comes out of Portland State University:

Schaefer, J., Figliozzi, M. and Unnikrishnan, A. (2020) “Do bicycles slow down cars on low speed, low traffic roads? Latest research says ‘no’,” EurekAlert!, https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/psu-dbs072320.php [Last accessed: 8/1/2020]

 

Check out the wealth of information through the links found throughout the article that includes references to published material in reputable journals. EurekAlert! is from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The problem with public transport in the Philippines…

There is a collage of two photos, one taken in 1975 and another in 2019, showing buses that managed to squeeze themselves into a jam. The 1975 photo was taken at the ramp of the overpass near Liwasang Bonifacio (Quiapo, Manila). There is a commentary describing the photo that attributes ‘monstrous daily traffic jams’ to the behavior of Filipino drivers. Special mention was made of public transport drivers and the photo showed proof of this. This was 1975 and motorization had not reached the levels we are at now so the arguably, traffic congestion was not as bad as the present we experience daily.

The problems pertaining to driver behavior persist today and probably even worsened along with the general conditions of traffic in Philippine roads. I say so since the volume of vehicular traffic has increased significantly from 1975 to the present and there are much more interactions among vehicles and people that have led to a deterioration of road safety as well. Traffic congestion and road crashes are asymptomatic of the root causes of most of our transport problems. And so far, it seems we have had little headway into the solutions. The photos speak for themselves in terms of how many people can easily put the blame on poor public transport services despite the fact that cars are hogging much of the road space. And what have authorities done in order to address the behavioral issues that lead to these incidents?

Someone joked that the guy in the 1975 photo who appeared to be posing in disbelief of what happened is a time traveler. The 2019 photo shows a similar guy with a similar pose though with more people around. Maybe he can tell us a thing or so about what’s wrong with transportation in the Philippines and provide insights to the solutions to the mess we have.