MUCH HAS been written to pay tribute to the late professor Chit Estella of the UP College of Mass Communication by her students and fellow faculty. Much, too, has been written lamenting her senseless death, the taxi she was riding in rammed by a speeding bus on Commonwealth Avenue, long dubbed the “killer highway.”
I don’t want to repeat what’s already been said about dealing with the rising death toll on our highways, the deaths totally preventable if we cracked down on reckless driving and ditched the ridiculous scheme of U-turn slots not just in the killer highway but all throughout Metro Manila.
Much too has been said about the speeding bus drivers, with questions about why we continue to allow bus companies to pay their drivers based on the number of trips that are made, which becomes an excuse for the bus drivers to turn their routes into race tracks. But the public outcry comes only when the victims are prominent, as in the case of Professor Estella. Each time there is an outcry, I am sure the bus companies issue directives to their drivers to please slow down for the next few days. Only a few days after Professor Estella’s death, I’m already seeing some buses going back to their lethal racing.
I still want to tackle this issue of speeding but with a different approach, focusing on gender. Understanding the gender aspects of reckless driving might produce some solutions that we don’t normally think about and yet can, or rather should, be implemented among children, in our homes.
A clue to the gender component comes with death statistics around accidents, available from the Department of Health. The DOH does not have specific figures on motor vehicular accidents but uses a category called “transport accidents” where males outnumber females in the deaths here.
I could not check on figures of the gender of the drivers who kill or maim, but I am sure at least 90 percent will be male.
This pattern is found throughout the world and has been explained mainly in biological terms, i.e., male brains are “wired” not just to take risks but to find risk pleasurable.
In relation to my topic today, I wanted to link this risk-taking to a “vroom vroom factor,” a term I’m using to describe a male fascination for wheels and, more importantly, for speed. You see this developing very early; with my son one of his first “words” was “vroom vroom” to refer to motorcycles. Every time he would see a motorcycle, he would beg to be put on the seat. I have pictures of him, hands on the handlebar, pretending to drive . . . in diapers.
I will warn here that there will be variations. Certainly, there are women who enjoy risky activities too and speeding on the road. My youngest daughter also goes vroom vroom and fights with her Kuya over toy cars and trucks. Conversely, there are men, like myself, who have absolutely no interest in cars except as a transport vehicle.
There is, too, a strong social component to all this. Very young boys and girls are taunted, questioned about their masculinity or feminity, if they play with the “wrong” toys. My son may love speed but he hates theme park rides, gamely participating only because his sisters love them and he’s afraid they’ll tease him if he doesn’t join in.
All said though, the vroom vroom factor is much more a part of masculinity, and needs to be tamed. I first thought about this while listening to a lecture by Fr. Percy Bacani, who gives excellent lectures on gender, specifically on masculinities. He gets very personal, talking about how he has to monitor his own masculinity. The best example he gave was his driving, and how he sometimes finds himself racing with other drivers without consciously intending to. Many of my long-suffering women friends talk about this too, about how their husbands or sons get irritated when another car overtakes them and they begin to race to catch up. In other cases, men will just decide—hey, this is boring, and step on the gas.
Later in life, the need for speed converges with an aspiration for size. The bigger the vehicle, the better. It begins even with motorcycles, men salivating for a Harley-Davidson, for example. Then you go up the hierarchy with motor vehicles. To drive a truck or bus makes you a big man, and I mean big.
There are class differences. Upper-class men wouldn’t dream of driving trucks and buses, which are too proletarian or working-class. Instead, the dream is a flashy and fast sportscar or SUV. You know the brand names.
There’s machismo operating out on the roads, and it’s not confined to driving vehicles. Urban poor kids, without vehicles to drive, try to outdo each other’s recklessness with crossing the streets, sometimes entire barkadas prancing across the street taunting each other and motorists. Just the other day the newcasts featured another death on Commonwealth Avenue—a teenage boy who made one of those mad sprints across the highway.
Our reckless bus drivers represent the worst case scenario: of little boys who never outgrew their fixation on wheels and speed. Combine that with employers paying bus drivers by the trips made, bus drivers inviting other drivers to race for the fun of it, a machismo culture of alcohol and drug use, and, finally, corrupt (or more often helpless) traffic enforcers, and you have the perfect recipe for road disasters and death.
I am convinced we can tame the speed demons in boys and men, starting with ourselves, and then with our kids. I let my son play with his toy cars and motorcycles and I do enjoy hearing him play on his own, with imaginary race tracks and “vroom vroom” vocalizations. But when we’re in a real car, I tell him to remind me if I’m driving too fast, and I’m amazed at how he’s come up with a fairly consistent standard—around 50 kph he begins to warn me. He still loves speed and more often reminds me I’m driving too slow rather than too fast but at least he knows speed is not always good.
He understands what speeding can do because whenever there are accidents on the road—and you see them every day, sometimes several in a day—I point them out to him, and explain, “Maybe that car was driving too fast.” I talk about how sad it is that someone may have died, or will have to be in the hospital for a long time. He knows all too well about hospitals and suffering with the many visits he made to an ailing grandmother last year, and a kid sister having heart surgery two years ago.
I find I have to do that as well with the older men. I’m almost reminding our family driver, and other male relatives, when they get reckless: “Don’t forget, there are children in the car. Don’t play with their lives.”
All said, taming the speed demon, which is something we should be doing in homes and schools, must be linked to teaching about the value of human life.
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