Let me give you some other ideas about traffic, and let me start with one that is uppermost: safety. How do we make driving in Metro Manila and elsewhere safer? First, without any question, is discipline. The discipline of Filipino drivers is appalling, in fact nonexistent. I seriously wonder how many drivers really went through the theoretical and practical test before getting their license. I would cancel all licenses upon renewal date and require comprehensive retesting, preferably conducted by a private company (sorry, but I don’t trust government employees on this one).
I realize this is quite a dramatic move, but “dramatic” is what this country needs in ever so many ways. I would also require that to obtain a license, you must first go through a driver-training course, then you get a “P” plate. This plate will be prominently displayed on your car to indicate that you are a new driver with a provisional license. If you commit a driving offense during the provisional period, you automatically lose that license and can’t get a new one until after a 6-month disqualification period. Thereafter, you will need to reapply for a permit and pass a driving test again.
As a start, and to test the system, I’d do this with all professional licenses carried by drivers of buses, taxis, trucks and jeepneys. And certainly tricycles. What a nuisance they are. Why do they insist on trundling along in the center lane of national roads in the provinces? This definitely slows down traffic. And this characteristic is apparent throughout the driving sector—an absence of care for the other person. Vehicles will stop anywhere that’s convenient regardless of the disruption they cause.
The next issue on safety is maintenance. As far as I can determine, there’s no Tagalog word for it. So how do you do something you can’t mention? But, seriously, I think the situation is driven more by money and a bahala na attitude. Why spend money on vehicle maintenance when it’s still working? Well, brakes that are working today won’t be tomorrow if the pads aren’t replaced; tires fully inflated today will blow out tomorrow if the tread is worn out; steering boxes will lock up if the oil leaks out and is not replaced. And so on. I’d almost guarantee you that the recent dreadful plunge of the bus up in Bontoc, Mountain Province, was due to mechanical failure, but will not be found to be so for reasons you can well imagine. Now maybe that’s unfair, maybe it was speeding by the driver. But I’d need some pretty solid proof. I’ve seen far too many accidents where the first is the reason.
A possible solution to mechanical failure is random checks of public vehicles. If a defective vehicle is found, the whole fleet is grounded until all vehicles of the company are checked.
As to speeding, speed governors (not alarms) that prevent the vehicle from going over a set limit are the obvious solution, and for bus companies to say (as they did last week) that it would lead to a fare increase is so laughable you almost can’t believe they said it. A governor costs P4,000-P5,000 and a little more to install it. Divide that by the number of passengers over two years (a reasonable amortization period), and it adds nothing to the fare.
The other thing I’d do is install a CCTV camera on the dashboard. There are now specifically designed cameras for vehicles that cost around P3,000. They record the trip, so if there’s an accident they show what happened (a bit like, in a simplistic way, the black box in a plane). That would have explained why the bus crashed in Bontoc. If it had a speed governor, speeding would not even be a consideration.
Private cars should be encouraged to install speed governors, too—good to help prove what really happened in an accident. Who hit who, it will be there.
And here’s a truly radical idea I really like. All bus companies should have displayed at each bus entrance the number of passengers that have died in the company’s buses in the past decade. A bit like the wording on cigarette packs: “Smoking kills.” Think about it. Why not, don’t we have a right to know? And think of the pressure it would put on companies to maintain their buses and properly train and control their drivers. Sadly, I reckon I’ve got zero chance of it being done.
Not related to safety, but having been stuck in traffic again this week it struck me again: One simple, almost costless solution to the traffic mess we face is to keep intersections clear (I always propose this in my traffic-related columns, and nothing has been done). I waited three green light changes before crossing an intersection last Friday. Just think of the traffic buildup behind me. It can be done; get tough on these selfish, thoughtless bastards. Suspend their license for a week with a heavy fine; that’ll teach them. If you can’t clear an intersection, don’t go in. Initially, until the habit becomes ingrained, we need trained traffic aides at every major intersection. And put prominent signs warning of the penalty for blocking an intersection.
What has to be recognized is that even the briefest stop disrupts traffic. A taxi letting off a passenger sends a wave of delay through the smooth flow of traffic. There must be no stopping of any kind on the main thoroughfares. To do so, you must pull into an emergency bay, or into a side street. A nuisance, yes, but just for you. The hundreds behind you benefit. Again, let’s have signs: THINK OF OTHERS, BE COURTEOUS, GIVE WAY, and so on. Let’s get traffic moving, safely.