Caught (up) in traffic

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Challenges for students commuting to/from schools

Its our first day of school for our daughter today. But unlike her, I recall that I had to wake up early when I was in grade school and high school because the ‘service’ providing transport  to and from school had to pick me up and then others. That usually meant a 5:30 AM wake up, a quick shower, dress-up (we wore uniforms) and breakfast before the ‘service’, an AUV, picked me up at home. School started at 7:30 AM and it took something like 45 minutes (depending on traffic) from our last pick-up to get to school at exactly 7:30. If our vehicle is able to finish pick-ups earlier, that meant we were assured of not being late for homeroom period. If the other kids (and there are many) are running late and we end up waiting longer for each, then we would likely be late. In many cases, our driver would have to resort to being reckless in order to make the time.

Nowadays, I think its much more difficult for kids due to the worsening traffic congestion. What was a 30 to 45-minute travel time between our home in Cainta to Pasig/Mandaluyong is now easily twice or longer that. And I am only referring to a direct trip. Even with Waze available, one can only have few options for routes between home and school.

While there are still many school ‘service’ vehicles (and not so many actually buses), many parents seem to have opted to Ateneo, for example, used to have a fleet of buses transporting students. These were replaced by AUVs and vans accredited by the school, and the many (too many?) private vehicles ferrying mostly individual students to and from their Quezon City campus.

School children have to wake up early to go to school. Some probably take their breakfasts as baon in order to save time for traveling. Some take their breakfasts at nearby eateries or fast-food restaurants.

Many children may be at risk as they are ferried to school via motorcycles and usually without helmets. In other cases, there are tricycles acting as school service vehicles. Often these are overloaded with children and their school bags.

Pedestrian facilities are also lacking in many cases and particularly in rural areas where public schools are located along highways that have no sidewalks or cities where pedestrian walkways are not built to standards for one reason or another. These are issues that need to be addressed and would be nice topics for research, especially those with practical and safety applications.

Give way!

Road courtesy can be a scarce thing in many Philippine roads. In many road crash incidents, it can be quite obvious even to the casual observer that one of the problems we have is drivers and riders not practicing common courtesy. Hindi nagbibigayan. This is the case in most intersections where no traffic signals are installed and operational. Congestion occurs as drivers and riders try to impose their right of way over others. The absence of traffic personnel, even those who have limited capabilities managing traffic, further exacerbates the situation as motorists tend to ignore traffic personnel. Based on my observations, the most guilty of ignoring traffic rules and regulations including the enforcer on duty are motorcycle riders, followed by public utility vehicle drivers.

Below is a scene that greeted me one morning during my commute to my workplace. Maj. Dizon is a secondary national road passing through a residential area in Quezon City and Marikina; connecting  C-5 with Marcos Highway.

Who had the right of way here? Did the private car have the ROW and the taxi driver tried to impose himself (cut into the path of the private car) thinking that the private car driver will slow down to give way? Or did the taxi driver have the ROW but then the private driver decided to accelerate so as to prevent the taxi from completing the maneuver? Either are likely cases and are often the cause of crashes like this.

Other situations that are common are vehicles maneuvering (e.g., backing or turning) but tricycle drivers and motorcycle riders proceeding despite the clear ROW for the maneuvering vehicles. In certain cases, large vehicles like trucks have blind sides and have resulted in their inadvertently hitting motorcycles who riskily and recklessly maneuver with respect to the trucks.

How do we address such behavior? It likely is rooted from how drivers and riders learn to drive or ride so its starts with that stage. Many people learn to drive or ride from peers or their seniors (e.g., parent, uncle, family driver, company driver, etc.) while others learn via driving schools. Do they learn courtesy from their ‘teachers’? Are driving schools imparting this or just teaching people how to operate a vehicle? Then there is the licensing stage. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) is also responsible for assessing whether those applying for licenses are qualified. Both the written and practical exams should contain elements related to the practice of courtesy. And then there is the enforcement aspect, which has the burden of educating drivers and riders by accosting and reminding (lecturing?) motorists about proper driving and riding etiquette. Of course, you have to have capable enforcers in the field whether they be traffic aides or police officers.

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.

On vulnerability to crashes

A beloved aunt was hit by a jeepney as she walked to church yesterday. She was walking on a local road that didn’t have any pedestrian sidewalks because this was in a residential neighborhood with very low vehicular traffic. She sustained serious injuries and was brought to the hospital by the jeepney driver (good thing he did not flee as many likely would have done) and people who witnessed the incident. She is now in critical condition, unconscious and would likely have a very difficult time recovering considering her advanced age if she pulls through. Senior citizens involved in accidents, whether domestic or crashes like this, and who have sustained injuries like hers (i.e., fractured bones and damaged). Her prognosis is not so good and a cousin says it will take a miracle for her to recover from this very traumatic incident.

Many of us do not care about road safety and do not concern ourselves with making an environment that’s safe for all users. That is, until we or someone close to us become victims of crashes. What do we do about this? Do we become instant advocates of road safety? Do we suddenly look for initiatives that we can be a part of? Do we do the talk circuit and find opportunities to share our experiences and give our two centavos worth of advice? Did we really have to wait for these things to happen before we become active in promoting and realizing road safety? Or do we start now and become proactive whether or not we think we ourselves are vulnerable? We are all vulnerable road users. We are all potential victims or participants in crashes. And so we should all be involved in making or enabling a safer environment for everyone.

Addressing concerns about hazardous work-sites along Sumulong Highway

The concern about hazardous worksites along Sumulong Highway that I wrote about earlier this week has apparently been addressed. Here are a few photos of those areas and prominent in the photos are the concrete barriers set up by the contractor with “DPWH” painted on each barrier. These are the same barriers that they mass-produced and were just sitting in the project office nearby and not utilized until very, very recently.

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While these areas still pose significant risks to road users. These are not a continuous barrier with only yellow tape connecting them, and people and vehicles can still easily get through between the gaps. Yet, these will do (for now) and is better than nothing. Perhaps, though, the DPWH and LGUs like Antipolo City can do a better effort to compel contractors to improve safety in work sites like this in order to minimize the likelihood of crashes or accidents.

On the worsening state of road safety in Metro Manila and adjoining areas

Recent days have seen some serious road crashes occurring along major roads to the east of Metro Manila. A friend posted about a crash along Marcos Highway last June 10 at the still incompletely paved Marcos Bridge. No one was killed in the crash though the driver and passengers sustained serious injuries. However, there was a high potential for this to have been a fatal crash.

13339657_10153591552387401_93275331210128791_nCrash involving a truck plowing into the steel fence and median of Marcos Highway near the Marcos Bridge along the eastbound direction of the highway. Both directions of the bridge’s carriageway’s asphalt overlay had been scraped off and remained neglected for several months until this morning when I observed workers laying out asphalt concrete along the eastbound lanes of the bridge.

An even more ugly crash occurred yesterday in Taytay, Rizal when a truck plowed into the tiangge are of Tatay’s public market killing scores of people and injuring more. Here is a link to some photos and videos about the Taytay crash. These two are but examples of what is happening along national and local roads all over the country with many not even being reported on mainstream or social media.

As I have mentioned in previous posts these crashes were all preventable. Truck operators and drivers need to regularly perform maintenance checks on their vehicles. Brakes are among the critical or essential parts that need to be checked especially with safety in mind. How many fatal road crashes have been reported involving brake failure? In the Marcos Bridge crash, there is also the need to make sure roads are well-maintained and projects not left out for months. In fact, poor road pavement conditions also contribute to traffic congestion as vehicles tend to slow down because of the roughness of the road (e.g., too many potholes). How can the next administration reinforce the enforcement of traffic rules and regulations as well as testing of private and public utility vehicles for these to be certified safe for driving along our roads? Will the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and other allied agencies (e.g., LTO and LTFRB), local government units and private entities come up with a more aggressive effort to curb what seems to an increasing trend in road crashes? We hope so and look forward to positive change coming to our roads.

Is a truck ban the solution to truck-related crashes in Antipolo?

The crash near Masinag Junction in Antipolo City that led fatalities, injuries, damage to property  and terrific costs due to the congestion was caused by a truck that apparently had defective brakes. I’ve read some posts on social media calling for a truck ban in Antipolo City. Some comments go as far as specifying major roads like Sumulong Highway and Marcos Highway where a truck ban can be ‘most effective’.

Is a truck ban in Antipolo City and particularly along major roads like Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway going to solve truck-related road safety issues? It should have some success but it does not address the root causes of the problem. Among these root causes are related to driver behaviour and the maintenance or condition of trucks. Issues pertaining to driver behaviour can be seen in the form of aggressive or reckless driving (e.g., speeding trucks, trucks weaving in traffic, overtaking at critical sections, etc.). Meanwhile, issues pertaining to vehicle maintenance/condition can be seen in instances where trucks climbing Sumulong Highway, Marcos Highway or Ortigas Ave. Extension tend to slow down traffic (overloaded and/or underpowered?) as well as in crashes involving the malfunctioning braking systems. These cannot be addressed through truck bans, which are likely to be more effective for cases of severe congestion that can be directly attributed to trucks.

A truck ban will only punish the good (read: disciplined and competent) drivers and responsible truckers/truck operators. Good drivers know their traffic rules and regulations and how to position themselves on the roads as well as the speeds they need to travel by together with mixed traffic. They exercise caution especially along areas where there are a lot of pedestrian activity (e.g., Masinag area, Mambugan, Cogeo, Tikling, Cainta Junction, etc.). Meanwhile, responsible trucking company operators would likely have more structured or organised maintenance regimes for their trucks and likely would have newer and standard (read: non-modified) vehicles in their fleets. These would be able to carry load according to their specifications and maneuver safely in varying traffic and road conditions. On a larger scale, truck bans will definitely have a detrimental impact on logistics that will carry over to the local economy as well as Antipolo is the origin of many goods/freight and much also pass through the city.