Caught (up) in traffic

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On illegal parking

The following photo pretty much sums up the topic for this post:

How many violations do you see here? The driver of the dark coloured vehicle had three outstanding violations – parking on the pedestrian crosswalk, blocking a fire hydrant, and blocking a PWD ramp.

The penalty for such violations as shown above used to be a paltry 500 pesos. However, a third violation will lead to a suspension of revocation of the driver’s license of the offender. That is, if authorities such as the Land Transportation Office (LTO) are able to track these violations. The fines have been updated recently to 1,000 pesos. Illegal on-street parking is perhaps among the most frequently committed violations that usually contributes to traffic congestion as it occupies space and reduces road capacities. It also blocks the typical paths of cyclists. A variation of on-street parking where parts of the vehicles are on the sidewalk is also problematic as it deprives pedestrians walking space and may lead to road safety issues especially if pedestrians are forced to use the road.

How do we address such issues? These are matters that can easily be addressed by enforcement. Yes, the catch all for many of our transport and traffic ills happens to be enforcement or rather the lack of it in many instances such as what’s shown in the photo above. This is an enduring and perhaps festering issue among those tasked with enforcing traffic rules and regulations. And we can only hope that they are up to the challenge.

[Note: The photo above was taken in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus along the Academic Oval and just after the intersection with Apacible Street. UP people like to say that what happens on campus is a microcosm of society. I cannot but agree in the case of the situation shown.)

The need for speed (limits)?

My social media newsfeed regularly contains updates being posted by various entities about transport and traffic in Metro Manila and across the Philippines. Among those I regularly see are posts on road safety and interesting to me are the frequent posts on legislating speed limits at the local level. These are in the form of city or municipal ordinances that are supposed to strengthen, supplement and/or clarify speed limits that are actually already stated in the road design guidelines of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). These limits apply not only to national roads but to local ones as well. However, their effectiveness may be limited or reduced by the absence or lack of signs, markings and, most importantly, traffic law enforcers who are supposed to monitor traffic and apprehend those violating rules and regulations.

While there is a need for defining and clarifying speed limits perhaps in the form of local legislation, I believe the more urgent matter is the implementation and enforcement of laws. It has often been mentioned that we already have so many laws, rules, regulations and the truth is we do, and may not need more. One really has to go back to the basics in terms of enforcing these laws and that means enforcers need the knowledge and tools to be effective in their work. There is an opinion that many enforcers are not knowledgeable about many rules and regulations and therefore are prone to just focus on a few including violations of the number coding scheme, truck bans and the much maligned “swerving”. You do not often seen apprehensions for beating the red light, beating the green light (yes, there is such a violation), speeding, or “counter-flowing” (or using the opposing lane to get ahead of traffic in the correct lanes). There are also turning violations as well as those involving vehicle (busted tail lights, busted headlights, busted signal lights, obscured license plates, etc.). More recently, there are anti-drunk-driving laws that also urgently need proper implementation.

I think the current work that includes sidewalk clearing operations and anti-illegal on street parking of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is one good example of going back to the basics. These address the necessity of clearing space for both pedestrians and vehicles; space that have been constrained by obstacles that should not be there in the first place but so often have gotten the blind eye treatment. Going to the “next level” though requires tools such as speed guns,  high speed cameras at intersections, and instruments for measuring blood alcohol levels in the field (breath analyzers). And these require resources for acquisitions as well as capability building in the form of training personnel to handle equipment. No, I don’t think we need more laws, rules and regulations. What we urgently if not direly need is their proper implementation to effect behavior change that will improve both safety and the flow of traffic.

In memoriam of road crash victims

I wrote earlier this year about a beloved aunt who was involved in a road crash. She was hit by a jeepney driven recklessly as she was walking; on her way to church one early morning. She was in the hospital for weeks before she finally passed away. It was painful to see her in her hospital bed, unconscious but fighting for her life.

No, I don’t feel anger anymore whenever I recall the incident and note that if the driver were just careful then she would still have been alive today. I feel sad. I feel sad and frustrated that despite all the efforts a lot of people have put into road safety programs and projects, there seems to be little in terms of the reduction of recklessness on the roads. The recent weeks, for example, are full of reports of crashes that claimed the lives of many and injured more. These often involved trucks that mowed down everyone in their paths. Then, you see a lot of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, many ride like stuntmen and without regard for life, limb or property as long as they can get away with it.

Additional laws in the form of local ordinances or Republic Acts will not be effective in reducing road crashes and the death toll it has brought upon us. It is the enforcement, the implementation of these rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are just words that, if not acted upon, do not have any effectiveness. And so we get to the root of the problem and that is enforcement; the lacking if not missing ingredient in the road safety broth that is necessary to save lives and create a safer environment for all. Does it deserve more attention and resources from our national government and local authorities who are in-charge of most of the enforce aspects of road safety? I do think so. Statistics on traffic-related deaths, injuries and damage to property compare strongly with if not exceed those attributed to drug abuse. When you purposely drive recklessly and crash into another vehicle or person, one is practically murderous. You also destroy the lives of people related to the person you kill or injure (e.g., that person could be the sole breadwinner of a family). The comparisons and examples are plenty and I am sure a lot of people have their own personal experiences about this as well as their opinions. For now though, let us reflect on those who perished from road crashes and perhaps think not about “what could have been” but instead of “what can be done.”

Addressing congestion due to school traffic congestion

There are two important traffic news stories yesterday:

For some reason that’s a bit surprising for many, the MMDA seems to have solved two of the most enduring issues on traffic congestion along two major thoroughfares. LSGH is along Ortigas Avenue while Ateneo is along Katipunan Avenue (C-5). Both have high trip generation rates and a significant percentage of their trip gen is comprised of private vehicles. While, Ateneo’s trip generation has led to traffic congestion due to the sheer number of trips the university attracts, the congestion due to La Salle is due to the poor traffic management and lack of parking spaces for vehicles attracted by the school.

I only wonder why it took so much time to address these problems considering the solutions mentioned in the articles are basically ones that could have been implemented years ago. In the case of La Salle, good old fashioned traffic enforcement apparently did the trick. But then, the MMDA even with the LGU constraint could have been stricter before whether when they were under Bayani Fernando (BF) or any of his successors as MMDA Chair. With Ateneo, the scheme is very similar if not the same as what BF proposed over a decade ago when he was MMDA Chair. At that time though a touchy issue was the U-turn scheme he installed along Katipunan that cost trees and the former service road on the west side of the avenue. We can only hope that these claimed ‘successes’ will be sustained and ensure smoother flow of traffic along the major roads they directly affect.

The Philippines Anti-Drunk Driving Law

It’s a Friday and another weekend is here. It’s also payday weekend and so it’s expected that restaurants, cafes and bars will be full tonight and the weekends with people dining, lunching, having coffee, and likely for many – drinking. For many years, the latter has resulted in too many road crashes, a significant number of which have had fatal outcomes – usually cars or motorcycles crashing into one another or by themselves. It’s even more dangerous (and highly likely to be fatal) for motorcycle riders who need to balance themselves on two wheels after getting inebriated. Meanwhile, a lot of driving under the influence (DUI) that in many other countries including the US and Japan don’t get apprehended primarily due to the absence of laws and guidelines for their capture and evaluation. There was no way to test their blood alcohol content (BAC) in the field and traffic personnel couldn’t force people to go to hospitals to be tested.

There’s good new, however, especially for road safety advocates. The Philippines is finally implementing Republic Act No. 10586 – An Act Penalizing Persons Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, Dangerous Drugs, and Similar Substances, and for other Purposes, which was signed into law in May 27, 2013. Under the law, private vehicle drivers can be arrested and penalized for BAC of more than 0.05% while truck and public transport drivers and motorcycle riders can be apprehended for a BAC of more than 0.0%. For comparison, Japan requires a BAC of 0.0% for ALL motorists.

The Implementing Rules and Regulations for the law may be found here: PH Anti Drunk Driving Law2013 Rules. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) have already acquired equipment to help them evaluate apprehended persons. These include breath analyzers and staffs of both agencies have already undergone training to be able to implement the law. Unfortunately, traffic enforcers cannot randomly test people on the road but would have to apprehend them first for violating other traffic rules and regulations. But I am sure our traffic law enforcers can be quite creative in how to catch these people who pose dangers to all other road users by their being irresponsible for driving or riding under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs. And with the national elections coming up next year, there will be a lot of checkpoints sprouting up along major roads that will also open opportunities for testing and apprehensions.

On high definition cameras to improve traffic enforcement and management

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.