Why So Many Vehicular Incidents?

Indeed, why so many vehicular incidents? We have heard about the tourist bus that plunged into a ravine in Bontoc, Mountain Province killing several people. Not long after, we again read about the public utility jeep that met an accident in Davao killing a number of its passengers. Only about a week ago, I passed by a car that slammed into a light post along Roxas Boulevard just before the Buendia flyover. On another day soon after, I again saw an ambulance mini-van, which broke down on the same road, just before the EDSA flyover causing a massive traffic jam. Almost on a daily basis, we hear of vehicular and motorcycle incidents occurring somewhere involving loss of life and property. It has been documented that collectively, road incidents account for the highest number of casualties in terms of human lives more than war and crime. If unchecked, road incidents will become a major threat to travel safety and security.

There are several reasons that explain the frequent road incidents which appear to be worsening in the Philippines. The first is population. There are just too many vehicles and motorcycles plying the roads today. The probability of road incidents occurring has correspondingly increased as these events are directly proportional to the number of transportation assets required by a constantly increasing population. The transportation industry is one of the most difficult to regulate. The need to mandatorily retire old and dilapidated vehicles cannot be enforced due to its impact on the livelihood of a significant number of the population. Second is the fact that the pace of road expansion cannot keep up with the population growth rate. There are just more and more vehicles being squeezed into limited road spaces that seemingly become even smaller due to the increased demand for them. The increased road population density has likewise increased the probability of vehicles bumping into each other. The third reason is the laxity of road law enforcement. Many vehicles frequently violate road signs and regulations but are seldom apprehended by law enforcement or its auxiliaries. Many people behind the wheel are not qualified drivers. Some drive without a valid license. Unqualified drivers out there increase the possibility of road incidents occurring. Some drive too slow or too fast. Others drive without any regard for road signs, etc. Not only law enforcement is lax. The Land Transportation Office can also easily account for part of this discredit. This is the fourth explanation. Many drivers with issued licenses operate their vehicles seemingly devoid of any benefit that passing the theoretical and practical pre-license evaluations should have had on their driving skills. For instance, there is a marked difference between lowland driving and upland driving. The terrain in the former is flat and more spacious and does not require the skills needed to negotiate the kind of narrow roads over ravine-like terrain so prevalent in the latter. Fast-moving vehicles negotiating sharp curves over narrow roads half-visible in fog-like weather are often the ingredients that make up for a fateful journey in the mountainous up-north.

A fifth reason is the lack of discipline or selfishness on the part of many drivers. This, coupled with the ineffectiveness of regulations, has spawned a culture of indifference on the road. Even law-abiding drivers, who frequently experience being left out on the road, soon join the bandwagon of the reckless and non-queuing just to get to their destinations with lesser disadvantage. Vehicle-maintenance breakdowns on the road are another explanation and these do not only snarl traffic but also contribute toward encouraging incidents as they abruptly interrupt traffic momentum. Crime accounts for a seventh explanation. The incidence of crime being committed on the road is on the upswing. Robbery and theft continue to top the statistics charts of law enforcement in general and this includes road incidents. Crime incidents that have victimized motorists, passengers, and by-standers are well-documented. Snarled traffic has often given rise to thieves who suddenly grab money collections off unsuspecting public utility vehicles. They have allowed robbers riding in tandem bikes to smash car windows and run off with whatever items they can get their hands on from targeted vehicles like laptop computers and cellular phones. Although fewer in number than robbery and theft, road violence has also become more common along with the increase of population and road transport. For instance, just near the place where I work there have been times when there was almost a weekly occurrence of a major road incident. At one time, a person on a bike was shot from behind and his body was found on the roadside at night. In another incident, a police officer was almost assassinated in that same area by a suspect who cut the victim’s vehicle near an intersection, alighted, and shot her at point-blank range. Still in another instance, a couple was trailed by another vehicle and a motorcycle which eventually robbed them and even ended up fatally shooting one of the victims.

Finally, there is the ongoing uphill battle involving the administration of justice. A significant part of this challenge is the perennial issue of corruption that continues to undermine the system. The pillars of the justice system include the citizenry itself, law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and corrections. The issue of corruption undermining the justice system is also well-documented. For the system to work, corruption must be eradicated or at least minimized. Policy performance in this regard and the criminal justice system in general is dismal at best. Convictions from pursued complaints are continuing at record lows or almost nil. It makes people wonder how the citizenry and law enforcement community can find the zeal to enforce frequently maligned road policies when this awareness about zero convictions keeps swirling in their heads. The same goes true with the other pillars.

From the assessed policy performance, perhaps the following action items can help: First, although very difficult to implement, any gradual action agenda to regulate the seemingly uncontrolled road population density especially in the urban centers must be strictly and vigorously pursued. This is similar to regulating the influx of migrants into a country space implemented by immigration agencies. Only in this case, it will be the local governments working with the LTO, NSO, and development authorities that are involved. Second, existing laws must be properly implemented without fear or favor. No amount of law however well-written can be effective if it is not carried out to its spirit and letter by all stakeholders. Again, ‘Dura Lex, Sed Lex’. The law may be hard; but, it is the law. Third, relative to the foregoing, government must lead the way toward making the administration of justice work by effectively addressing institutionalized corruption which has infected every pillar of the justice system. As my former boss FVR used to say: ‘There is no bribe giver if there is no bribe taker!’ And finally, the people themselves have only themselves to blame for not doing their part. Only qualified drivers should drive. All should follow the law which includes observance of road signs. People should also report observed violations. How many people actually call the numbers posted behind delivery vehicles? How many actually report the plate numbers of vehicles in violation to the LTO? How many report road incidents to the police and or barangay blotter? How many pursue formal complaints? Are you a part of the solution? Or part of the problem?