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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-vehicle tools for road safety

I recently came across a provincial bus operator who is promoting a device for limiting the speeds of vehicles. He states that all their buses are fitted with the device and together with an on-board camera and GPS, they are able to monitor their buses and ensure the safety and security of their passengers. It’s always good to know there are responsible and progressive bus operators like him. Unfortunately, his kind is a minority among many who appear to be after the proverbial quick buck rather than ensuring a high quality of service for travelers.

Devices limiting the speeds of vehicles are not new. These have been installed in many public transport and commercial vehicles like buses and trucks in order to regulate their speeds along highways and streets. Trucks from Japan are fitted with these devices and those second hand trucks being sold in the Philippines have these but are allegedly disabled by their new owners. They are not violating any laws here as there are no regulations requiring such devices to be installed in vehicles.

Tracking devices that include GPS are more recent technologies being used mainly by logistics companies to track their vehicles. These are particularly important for trucks laden with high value cargo or for delivery vans who schedules and routes need to be managed to ensure timely delivery of packages consigned to them. Data from these devices would allow for the assessment of driving speeds and behavior such as lane changing that can be used to determine if drivers are, for example, reckless. The same data can also be used to evaluate fuel efficiency.

Such devices also have research applications because data can be used to determine real-time traffic conditions. In fact, there have been probe car studies conducted in other countries such as Japan, Thailand and Indonesia where taxis were employed to gather traffic information along urban road networks (e.g., Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta). Similar experiments can be implemented for Philippine cities to derive traffic information that can be used to guide travelers regarding travel times and route planning.

Perhaps the DOTC through the LTO and the LTFRB, should look into the mandatory installation and use of these devices to regulate vehicle speeds for public and freight transport and also monitor driver behavior. Mandatory speed regulation devices as well as tracking systems have a high potential for weeding out reckless, irresponsible drivers that will ultimately lead to a reduction in road crashes that have resulted in serious injuries and loss of lives. Definitely, there will be objections or opposition to such a requirement but these devices can be justified given the clamor for safer transport and safer roads. After all, everyone of us are vulnerable road users where even the safest driver can be involved in crashes. It takes only one reckless driver or rider to cause a crash.