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Commentary

Road deaths: Be part of the solution

/ 05:14 AM November 19, 2017

On Nov. 14, two teenage boys riding a tricycle in Laoag City were killed by a drunk driver. They are just two among 10,000 people who die by road traffic injuries in the Philippines each year. Many more are disabled for life.

Today, Nov. 19, World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, we take a moment to share in the grief of families and friends who have lost loved ones. It’s also time to reflect on what we can do to stop this tragedy.

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Road traffic injuries and deaths aren’t “accidents.” They do not happen by chance. We know who’s most at risk, what causes them, and what we can do to stop them. The poor and the young are at greatest risk. And when roads and vehicles are unsafe, traffic laws and enforcement are weak, and drivers speed, drink, or get distracted, our roads are more dangerous. But all these things can be fixed.

One of the keys is strong legislation. The government of the Philippines is taking steps in the right direction. There are already laws on managing speed, drunk driving, and use of helmets and seatbelts. Earlier this year, a law was introduced banning the use of mobile phones while driving. Unfortunately, it was not accepted by many. Another bill on the mandatory use of child seats is in the pipeline which, if passed and implemented, will make travel in cars much safer for children.

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There is still a lot of room for improvement. We must redouble political commitment and investments in new initiatives to make roads and vehicles safer. And we must do better at enforcing existing laws.

But road safety is not just government and police business. Every single one of us can do a better job of protecting ourselves and our fellow citizens. When we are on our bike or motorcycle, let’s wear a helmet. When we are in our car, let’s all put on our seat belts, drive at a safe speed, with no alcohol, and put away our phones.

Road safety rules are not made to inconvenience us. They’re made to protect us all from injury and death. Rather than complaining about having to change our habits, let us see them as an opportunity—to protect ourselves and those around us.

World health leaders have committed to cut the number of road traffic deaths and injuries by half in the coming years. But, in the Philippines, every year more people die or are injured. This trend is backward and unacceptable.

The updated Philippine Road Safety Action Plan being launched this week aims for zero deaths on the road in the long term. It has all the right elements, based on the Safe Systems approaches recommended by the World Health Organization.

Yet, ultimately, it’s not just the government or traffic enforcers who make our roads safe. It’s up to each and every one of us to take responsibility and put a stop to unnecessary deaths and disability on our roads. Be part of the solution.

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Dr. Gundo Weiler is the World Health Organization representative to the Philippines.

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