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We need to work on road safety for children

Working on a project on road safety for children, I have had an increasing appreciation for the need to improve the plight of our children who are among the most vulnerable of road users. I have shared or posted many images showing examples of children being exposed to risk. These include children crossing streets without assistance and those riding on motorcycles with minimal protective gear (not that such gear can really save them from serious injury or worse should they be involved in a motorcycle crash).

I took this photo as we waited for the signal to allow us to cross a very busy intersection in Zamboanga City. The entire family seems to be coming from dinner or the grocery where they picked up their popsicles. I hope the father is focused on balance and safe riding with his family considering the potential for tragedy here.

Some people may say that such scenes show the norm. But we must realise that treating these as normal means we accept that our children (and all other people) will be hurt one way or another. Is this really what we like or accept to be the situation? Perhaps not. And so the challenge is to find ways to make the journeys of children safer and one aspect we can focus on is the journey between home and school. This is perhaps the most common trip by children is between the home and school (to and from), which covers a significant share of the total trips made everyday.

In order to do this, we need to know, assess and understand the manner of their commutes and the facilities they use. We should collaborate with people who guide them including their parents/guardians and teachers. And we should engage those who are in the position to implement solutions such as government agencies or local governments in effecting interventions.

Dangerous situations for school children

We are currently implementing a project to improve the safety of journeys of children between their homes and schools. Ocular surveys of 25 schools in Zamboanga City revealed a lot of issues pertaining to their commutes. Critical locations include the main access roads (e.g., across school gates) and intersections. All schools have reported incidence of road crashes involving their students and mentioned that in many cases, drivers or riders do not slow down upon approaching the critical locations. These cases of speeding are despite the many countermeasures (including informal and creative ones) that schools and Barangay authorities have implemented to improve safety.

Here are some photos we took at Sinunuc Elementary School along the national highway in Zamboanga City:

Children waiting to cross the highway and on-board motorcycles with their parents/guardians who fetched them from school

Large vehicles including trucks and buses traverse the highway and the signs offer little in terms of refuge or protection against these for students and other people crossing the highway.

Child crossing with a parent/guardian

Children crossing the highway – photo also shows a pedestrian crossing sign at the road side along the direction towards the city centre.

Children crossing with their parents/guardians as a jeepney is stopped right before the pedestrian crossing.

Though it may not be so obvious for some observers or viewers of the photos, these situations present high risks for students and others using the roads. And we hope our assessments in cooperation with the schools, agencies and city officials will be fruitful in improving road safety especially for the children.

Slippery when wet

On rainy days like this, motorists need to heed advice to be more careful in driving or riding. Pavement surfaces are slippery and conditions may lead to drivers or riders losing control when they speed or execute risky manoeuvres.

It is not uncommon for road crashes to occur during rainy days. However, most if not all are preventable if people would just exercise extra caution. Slowing down, for one, is among the most effective ways to avoid situations that lead to crashes. You tend to lose control of your vehicle with excessive speeds and so slowing down makes sense.

Spacing also helps; especially between you and the the vehicle in front of you. Braking distances are longer along wet roads so make sure to maintain the proper distance between vehicles. A good rule of thumb is at least 1 car length per 10kph you are traveling. That’s at least 3 car lengths between your vehicle and the one in front, for example, when you’re traveling at 30 kph.

Safety guides for pedestrians and cyclists

Here are a couple of references/resources for pedestrian and cycling safety. These are guidelines and countermeasure selection systems that were developed under the Federal Highway Administration of the US Department of Transportation:

These guides are designed to be practical and should be helpful to practitioners/professionals, policymakers as well as researchers. These would be people looking for references to use in designing or revising (correcting?) existing conditions or situations in order to enhance safety for pedestrians and cyclists who are among the most vulnerable of road users.

Road safety week and some helpful articles

This week is the UN Global Road Safety Week. And so, I will be sharing some articles and references related to road safety including the following pertaining to crashes involving bicycles and motor vehicles:

Bicycle Accident Prevention: Avoiding the 12 most common types of bicycle/vehicle accidents

Link is here: https://www.bicycleaccidentprevention.com/?fbclid=IwAR2JnbQQR9rwg_Vz6rOLZtQ0sxnlyn3zPojBgg_-XoUKED69p0EFFtPdlRY

The only comment I have about the above reference is that it still uses the term “accident” instead of “crash”. The latter is the more appropriate term now being used by professional, advocates and policymakers who are focused on safety; keeping in mind the motto that “road safety is no accident”.

On the need for more facilities for cycling and ensuring they will be used for cycling

I read and hear a lot of comments about two particular items: pedestrian overpasses and bike lanes. Most of the comments call for pedestrians and cyclists to have priority over cars and for the latter to give way to pedestrians and cyclists every time. The hardline stance for some is for the pedestrians to be allowed to cross anywhere and for cyclists to be able to bike on any lane they choose to. Of course, the concerns about these are quite obvious and safety still calls for people, no matter what mode they choose, to use the appropriate spaces. What few actually discuss and delve into are design solutions to these problems. Many cite good practices elsewhere but stop at sharing these and not really going into in-depth and constructive discussions on how to implement these good designs here. Most of the time its just “the government must do this” and “the government must do like what (insert city or country) is doing”. Worse are those who tend to simplify it as an “architect vs. civil engineer vs. planner” kind of conflict. Playing the blame game doesn’t get us anywhere if we wanted the planning and design of transportation infrastructure improved.

Cyclists use the overpasses to cross the wide Marcos Highway between Pasig and Marikina. There are only 2 ramps, one each on either side of the highway and it partly occupies the sidewalk beneath. Could there be a better design for such overpasses?

Motorcycles using the bike lanes along Ortigas Avenue. How do we make sure that spaces are utilised according to their intended users? How do we design these spaces to include elements that will deter such incursions?

There are many references out there showing us what good design should be from the technical and social perspectives. Surely these can be taken up not only at the workplace for architects, engineers and planners but in schools where such principles are supposed to be learned and inculcated into the minds of future architects, engineers and planners.

On bicycle helmet standards

Here is an interesting online article about helmet standards. One of the issues on child safety is whether children should be wearing helmets and if yes, then what helmets are safe for them to wear? Here is the link to the article:

A comparison of bicycle helmet standards

There was a lively discussion about which helmets are appropriate for children during a recent seminar I attended in Bangkok on safe journeys between the home and school. In Vietnam, for example, most children wear a child-sized helmets that are lighter than the ones adults use. In other countries, children wear bicycle helmets, which are even lighter but which some experts deem to be unsafe if used on motorcycles. In our case, most children don’t even wear helmets! That is definitely not safe even if the motorcycle speeds are low as children are more vulnerable than adults in these situations. We do have helmet standards in the Philippines (refer to Bureau of Product Standards) but these are for adult sizes and adult use rather than for children.

A common sight in the Philippines is parents taking their children to school on a motorcycle.  Note that both children are not wearing any protective gear.

It would be nice to conduct a survey on helmet use for schoolchildren in the Philippines. We often make observations and provide anecdotal evidence on use/non-use but we don’t have the numbers to substantiate this issue. While, multiple passengers on motorcycles (e.g., a parent taking his/her child or children to school) is basically unsafe, it is widespread in the Philippines and surprisingly have not led to a high incidence of crashes involving them. Well, at least, not that we know of based on news reports and whatever available statistics are there. I guess that underlines the need to have better data collection and statistical analysis for this but that’s another story…