Ignoring the experts
Last week, the Tacloban City Council pleaded with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to reconsider the mandated use of motorcycle barriers, as these are “hazardous,” according to the council, and an unnecessary cost burden to already cash-strapped riders.
The Aug. 5 resolution cited findings by engineers and motorcycle experts that the required barrier/shield was a “question on safety, aerodynamics and maneuverability,” while also “already unnecessary” in preventing the spread of COVID-19 as riders wear face masks and helmets. Plus, since pillion riding on motorcycles is only allowed for couples living in the same house, they “have already been living or interacting closely to each other.”
The Tacloban City Council thus joined the chorus of concerned voices protesting against the motorcycle barrier policy. Those protests, however, continue to fall on deaf ears; Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who required the use of backriding shields as vice-chair of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, has rejected the criticisms and even scolded citizens and experts for airing their apprehensions.
“Ang daming pilosopo, ang daming critics, sabi, ganito, ganyan, ’di na kailangan ’yan,” an irked Año said during a forum in Bohol with Gov. Arthur Yap, whose motorcycle barrier design was the first approved by the NTF for use by pillion riders last month.
“Ang daming mga magagaling, sabi, ‘We are from the motorcycle associations, cyclists.’ Sabi ko naman, pagdating sa motor naniniwala ako na expert kayo, pero pagdating sa pandemic, huwag kayong magmamarunong kasi kailangan pag-aralan ano ba talaga itong virus na ito,” Año added.
Año is standing pat on the requirement to use one of the two approved designs for motorcycle barriers, the second being the backpack worn and strapped on the driver as pushed by motorcycle taxi platform Angkas. During the recent turnover of Angkas motorcycle shields at Camp Crame, Año again assailed critics who questioned his knowledge of motorcycles, saying that he has been riding one since he was a junior officer and thus knows whereof he speaks. (Sure, but did he ever use a barrier then?) The DILG instead blames the alleged faulty construction and use of unauthorized models for the recent accidents involving riders with barriers, reiterating that the approved designs had gone through “stringent” studies before approval. None of these supposed studies, however, have been released for independent review and public scrutiny.
Who are these objectors that Año dismisses so cavalierly? One of them is the Philippine Society of Mechanical Engineers (PSME). In a July 23 position paper, the group said that based on the science and engineering of how air interacts with moving bodies, also called fluid dynamics or aerodynamics, “the barrier may contribute negatively to safety, health, economy and the environment.”
When the motorcycle is in motion, the PSME warned, the barrier attached to either the motorcycle or the rider, or held by the backrider, will increase aerodynamic forces and add to the drag and lift beyond the designed limit for the vehicle, thus destabilizing the motorcycle and endangering both the driver and the rider.
Top motorcycle brands Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha hold the same view, saying the use of the barriers is “dangerous.” The brands that comprise the Motorcycle Development Program Participants Association, Inc. (MDPPA) pointed out in their July 21 statement that the shield would “create significant wind resistance when the motorcycle is in motion,” which would “drastically reduce” aerodynamic efficiency and also make it easier for crosswinds to throw the motorcycle off-balance even when running at low speeds.
The MDPPA stressed that all motorcycle models undergo years of careful planning, design, and development carried out by a team of engineers to ensure the utmost safety of each unit that comes out of their factory floor. Thus, “any additional feature,” such as the barrier greenlighted by the IATF, would “negatively affect stability and handling of a motorcycle, thus, inevitably compromising the safety of its occupants.”
Motorcycle riders comprising the Motorcycle Philippines Federation have also come out squarely against the policy. “Kinakatakot namin d’yan, yung wind dragging at saka wind lifting na tinatawag. Maski ikaw mabagal, dinaanan ka ng mabilis na bus o truck, maaaring magkaroon ng problema sa handlebar mo, mag-wiggle motor mo, madisgrasya ka,” MPF director Atoy Cruz said in an ABS-CBN interview.
“We’re asking for somebody, aerodynamics engineers who will suggest that this won’t be accident-prone. Local engineers wrote to IATF that this is dangerous. They did not listen,” Cruz said.
Bafflingly, curiously, they are not listening still. What’s behind this inordinate, irrational insistence on a policy that experts themselves warn could be harmful to public safety?
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