Unsafe roads, vehicles and drivers
In 2011, journalist Lourdes “Chit” Estella, one of the founding trustees of Vera Files, died in a road crash when the taxi she was riding in was hit by a speeding bus. The tragedy turned road safety into an “important and also emotional issue” for the staff of Vera Files, a respected investigative journalism site that has, true to its name, also been commissioned to do “fact-checking” for international media bodies.
In the wake of Estella’s death and in her memory, Vera Files created a micro-site on road safety that provides “a deeper analysis of the causes and impacts of road crashes which kill more than 10,000 Filipinos every year.”
In 2015, Vera Files began a collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) on a fellowship program to promote awareness and understanding of road safety issues among journalists around the country. Since then, 40 fellows have taken part in the program, learning from experts and advocates about how serious road safety issues are for the country, including the impact on the survival rates of Filipinos involved in vehicular accidents, whether as drivers, passengers or pedestrians.
Today, the program is carried out under the multi-country Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety together with a consortium of international partners as well as with national governments and local organizations.
While the public’s attention is currently on traffic conditions, especially the horrible congestion on Edsa, around the country, vehicular mishaps exact an appalling toll in terms of road deaths and injuries and damage to vehicles and even structures that happen to stand in their way, like sari-sari stores, ambulant vendor stands and even houses on the roadside.
Road safety is a global issue, with about 1.35 million deaths a year, translating to about 3,700 a day, or one person killed every 24 seconds.
To explain the local situation even more graphically, Dr. John Juliard Go of WHO compared the death toll due to dengue, a certified public health emergency nowadays, with that from road accidents. Dengue killed 732 in 2017, or two Filipinos a day. Road crashes, on the other hand, took the lives of 11,360 that same year, or 31 a day, more than one every hour. (This may even be underestimated, as road crashes are lumped with overall figures for “accidents.”)
In terms of material cost, said Dr. Go, the total amount lost to road crashes reached P5.7 billion in direct medical expenses and P100 billion in opportunity losses in 2017.
A study conducted in 2014 attempted to answer the question “How much does each road crash cost?” The findings are shocking: Some P3.5 million is lost “in terms of labor output, medical costs and funeral expenses.” The social cost of “pain, grief and suffering,” surely an impossible metric, is estimated at P506,000, while the cost of vehicle repairs in fatal crashes in 2014 has been placed at P77,000.
But really, when we boil it down in terms of lost lives and potential, how can one really measure the injury and loss and long-term impact when a breadwinner, a child or an entire family disappears?
Public health experts, says Dr. Go, have found ways to identify risk factors that make drivers, passengers and pedestrians vulnerable to road disasters. Some of these are: being male (despite the bad press against women drivers); between the age of 15 and 29; and “driver impairment” (drunk, on drugs, distracted, limited by disability).
External factors also increase the risk: road design; speeding (your vehicle or others); vehicle design; impaired visibility; lack of restraints/helmets; lack of airbags; roadside hazards.
Of these factors, experts say speeding is the most significant, as it “increases both road crash risk and injury severity.”
But there are solutions that vehicle owners can adopt to avoid death and injury, one of the most important being the use of seatbelts, which “reduces the risk of death by 50 percent for front seat occupants, and by 75 percent for those in the rear seats.” As for motorcycle riders, it has been shown that head trauma is the main cause of death and injuries, accounting for about 75 percent of deaths. Thus, the use of helmets is the most successful intervention, although there have been warnings about “fake” or subpar helmets being sold here.
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