Caught (up) in traffic

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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.”

On distracted driving vs. other, more urgent, traffic issues

Much has been written and said about the new law against distracted driving. The people who crafted the law, Senators and Congressmen, are in agreement that their intention was mainly to address the rampant use of gadgets including cell phones by motorists. Yet, when the agencies in-charge of implementation drew up the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), their interpretation was the subject of a lot of complaints. Many opined that the IRR didn’t take into consideration actual vehicle dashboard designs or that the definition of the term “line of sight” was open to interpretation. This necessitated another round of consultations with stakeholders leading to the infographic below:

Frankly, I am more concerned about speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving in traffic. These are equally if not more dangerous than many aspects of the distracted driving law. Quite serious would be the combination of distractions with any of the three behaviors mentioned. More disturbing would be the deliberate (definitely not distracted) or conscious acts of speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving that are often the cases if one observes the incidence of these three driving behavior. We can only wonder about the likelihood of crashes due to these behaviors.

Tire conditions

While stopped at an intersection, my eyes wandered to look at the vehicles around me. I took a photo of the rear tires of a truck stopped beside me. Following are some observations about the tires:

  • Most if not all the tires were re-treads
  • Most of the tires are worn out
  • One tire is already damaged and should not have been used in the first place

IMG_0651

Such conditions of trucks’ tires reflect the state of many commercial vehicles in the country. The same observation applies to public utility vehicles. I guess there have been many instances of tire blow-outs involving trucks and jeepneys. These have not been reported as they often lead to traffic congestion (i.e., when a vehicle is forced to stop and block traffic), which is not at all an uncommon experience to many.¬†Few perhaps have led to high profile road crashes featuring fatalities. Still, the potential for major crashes is there and it is contributory to disasters that are¬†always just waiting to happen in many of our roads.

Still on license plates

I can’t seem to get over this pet peeve of mine that is the earlier move of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for all new vehicles to adopt the same license plate design. It was an illogical move even as the LTO claimed the new plates had security features that allowed easy verification of vehicle registration. Common sense tells us that the easiest verification of whether a vehicle is for private or public utility is by simple vision. You don’t need high tech equipment to tell you that a van sporting a private plate and picking up passengers for fares is operating illegally. You didn’t need to exert a lot of effort to read the very small lettering on the new license plate for where the vehicles is registered because the first letter of the old license plates already indicated the region (i.e., the first letter corresponds to a region – ‘B’ for Region 2, ‘F’ for Region 6, and so on).

IMG10592-20150415-2206Two UV Express vehicles bearing plates that are supposed to be for private vehicles. The one on the left didn’t even make the cut for the new plates, being issued the older green plates.

I really hope that this is corrected ASAP considering that the LTO has rescinded the earlier policy and is supposed to issue yellow plates again for public utility vehicles.

Another example of mismatched plates

My most recent post was on the inappropriateness of the new license plates issued by the LTO to public utility vehicles. New taxis, UV express and jeepneys suddenly had the back and white license that’s supposed to be issued only to private vehicles. This meant that it would be difficult to distinguish the legitimate PUVs from colorum or illegally operating ones. In the last post, I was able to show an example each for these license plates on a taxi and a UV Express van. Yesterday, I was able to get a photo of a jeepney bearing this “anomalous” plate as I was caught in an unexpected traffic jam along an otherwise free-flowing road in Rizal.

IMG10533-20150409-1113Jeepney bearing the black and white license plate issued to private vehicles

On the uncommon sense on license plates

The issuance of new license plates has been a very “painful” process and experience to a lot of people and it is not without serious issues. For one, there is still a backlog in license plates as evident from Strictly speaking, these vehicles shouldn’t be operating or not allowed to be driven even considering they are technically registered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO). The proliferation of vehicles without license plates allows for the abuse of such by owners of relatively new vehicles who can remove their plates in order to be able to take their cars on their coding days. It is also possible to be involved in a road crash or incident where the driver of a vehicle without a license plate can make an escape (the details on the conduction sticker are not easy to spot and memorize) or evade apprehension.

Among the most problematic is the issuance of plates of the same design as that used by private vehicles to public utility vehicles like UV Express and taxis. This creates a lot of opportunities for abuse especially private vehicles masquerading as PUVs. These are without the proper franchises and are illegal (i.e., colorum). What the LTO claims as security features on the plate are meaningless as the uniform color of the plates defy the simple logic behind the old policy of having a specific color to quickly distinguish among vehicles bearing different color plates. This makes it easier for traffic officers including the Philippine National Police (PNP) to spot vehicles with mismatched or inappropriate license plates.

IMG10499-20150401-0959Taxi cab bearing plate with the same design as that used by private vehicles.

IMG10530-20150408-0825UV Express van bearing license plate for private vehicles

The purpose of having plates with different colors is for quick identification and distinction of vehicles. A plate with yellow background has always been associated with public utility vehicles. Those with blue lettering or background are those for diplomatic plates. Those with red lettering or background are for government plates. Fortunately, the LTO has reverted to the original policy pertaining to the license plate colors and new plates to be issued to PUVs will once again be a distinctive yellow. Perhaps corrections are due for those legitimate PUVs that were issued inappropriate design (i.e., color) plates.

On the new vehicle plates in the Philippines

A lot has been written about the new license plates being issued by the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for vehicles. I have read and heard many opinions or explanations from officials, experts and pundits about how the current license plates were better than the old ones due to its security features. As well, I have heard the opposite – criticisms by similar officials, experts and pundits usually focusing on the flaws of the new plates compared to the previous ones. They do agree on one thing, that the 4 numbers now appearing on the new vehicle plates issued to vehicles registered from January 2014 (5 numbers for the new motorcycles) are a necessity due in part to the rapidly increasing number of registered vehicles in the Philippines. Of course, the delays in the actual issuance of the plates themselves for new vehicles is another story.

Green plates are for private vehicles (not for hire). Red plates are for government vehicles. Blue plates (with only numbers and no letters) are diplomatic plates. Orange plates are the newest type of plates and were issued to electric vehicles. These solid orange plates and not of similar design to those bearing the Rizal Monument. Yellow plates are for “for hire” vehicles including public utility vehicles like buses, jeepneys, taxis and vans-for-hire. Recently, there were actually two types of yellow plates. One type used the design with the Rizal monument in the middle and these were issued to limousines such as those operated by hotels and tour companies. The other is the solid yellow plates (no Rizal Monument) that were issued to PUVs.

IMG07705-20140217-1133UV Express vehicle with the solid yellow plate.

The new plates issued by the LTO are black and white – basically black lettering on white plates. Recently, friends have been telling me about their seeing the new black and white plates on taxis. I had thought that this shouldn’t be the case since PUVs like taxis are supposed to have distinctive color (yellow) plates in order for illegally (so-called colorum) operating vehicles to be spotted easily by authorities. It turned out that the LTO under the previous head of the agency did away with the yellow plates in favor of what they claimed to be more sophisticated new plates. My reaction was that this was absurd and visual identification (i.e., seeing the color of the vehicle’s plate) is still the easiest was to spot colorum vehicles. I had wondered, too, how the LTO came up with that obviously flawed decision and if they consulted among law enforcement agencies like the PNP who would be tasked to apprehend illegally operating road transport.

IMG09930-20150107-1904Such incidence of green plates on public utility vehicles were a no-no (illegal) in previous administrations. I assume that this one is “temporary” in the absence of what were phased out yellow plates.

Fortunately, the LTO led by its current chief has decided to bring back the yellow plates. These will probably follow the new plate design but with yellow instead of a white background. Hopefully, all legitimate PUVs will have these yellow plates instead of the “temporary” private plates many have been issued. These will aid in the enforcement of regulations pertaining to PUVs and will help weed out colorum vehicles.