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Street smart, not road kill (or road rage)

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By Veronica Uy

(Note: This was written March 2006, but the situation is the same, if not worse.)

My husband and I live in Cavite and work in Manila. To travel that short, 35-kilometer distance, we spend at least one hour in the commute every day, one way. That's on a rare good day. On these daily treks, it is not unusual to encounter tragedy.

Once, while we were coming home from work, on the Aguinaldo Highway, a gang of four motorcycle riders successfully overtook us. These bikes, really just small scooters which are supposed to be banned on highways, zoomed past us. A couple of hundred meters and not even 30 seconds later, we passed by the lead biker sprawled on the highway beside his broken bike. Two of his companions were being pulled out from under a passenger-waiting jeepney to be taken to the hospital, where they eventually died. Shaken by the events, the lone survivor could only survey the remains of what appeared to have been a regular everyday adventure with friends.

That was not the first time I've seen people die of a smash-up or of being run over. At several places on the stretch of Aguinaldo Highway are virtual monuments to the road kill that people have become--rows of abandoned vehicles in different states of destruction--and signs which say, "Tumawid sa overpass. Nakamamatay tumawid dito (Use the overpass. Crossing the street here can kill you)."

But it seems these graphic reminders of the dangers of traffic violations are still being ignored. Man-made, preventable disasters continue to happen.

A research of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of the Philippines showed that while the overall death rate in the Philippines has declined in the last 35 years, deaths from injuries increased 196 percent. The study, the first to report on the overall problem of injuries in the Philippines and published in the November 2004 issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, found that the mortality rate from injuries, such as falls, drownings, and fires, increased three-fold from 1960. I am sure follow-up studies would show road accidents among the top causes of mortality from injuries.

Death and injury are not the only effects of wanton disregard of road rules. Those bikers were not the only casualties because every day our sense of safety and courtesy is assaulted. Why can't people follow the rules for using our common space?

Consider this eight-word, straightforward rule: "Cross the street when the light is green." On the crossroads of Libertad and Harrison in Pasay, which I cross regularly, this has never happened despite the traffic lights or the two policemen who are making like they're directing traffic. Instead, people and vehicles cross, turn left, turn right, stop, move at will, without discernible pattern except chaos, playing the dangerous game of chicken.

Consider again, "No swerving. No overtaking. Keep to your lane. Two-way traffic. Follow traffic signals." These rules are consciously, willfully, and regularly disobeyed by the authorities. And I don't mean just the president, senators, congressmen, mayors, all the way down to the most minor functionaries, wang-wanging their way across town as if their time were any more precious than mine. I mean this so-called counterflow or "buhos" (pour) traffic scheme that is meant to ease traffic during rush hour: In the morning, traffic cops stop all vehicles going to Cavite for 20 to 30 minutes to let all the Manila-bound use all lanes. The next 20 to 30 minutes, it's the other way. And so on.

This scheme which is replicated in several feeder roads to the metropolis is senseless (I heard the same traffic scheme is used on Ortigas Extension and in Novaliches). Drivers are being taught to completely disregard rules by the people who are supposed to enforce them. The exception has become the rule. The culture of entitlement among the privileged is reinforced. "I am in a hurry so the hell with the rules." "I am rich. I have a car. I come first." And what about the pedestrians who have to cross these streets? As a rule, pedestrians, not drivers, take precedence over use of roads because everyone is a pedestrian first; we were born with feet, not wheels.

The thing is, properly enforcing the rules has been abandoned. Jeepneys and buses stop, load, and unload their passengers anywhere they want. By itself, keeping these PUVs from using the road as a terminal would revert "traffic" to what it originally meant: movement, not non-movement, of vehicles.

This is what I want to happen, and not just in my tiny world of Cavite and Metro Manila: I want traffic rules properly enforced--no more special treatment for those with special car plates, no more ambulances towing speedboats to the beach (I've seen it, ang kapal talaga).

I want driver's licenses only for those who know how to drive, not just move vehicles forward--no more drivers cluelessly overtaking on the shoulder, no more under-the-table, 300-peso licenses for those unschooled on road rules.

I want the reappearance of sidewalks--no more public works kickbacks from the absence of sidewalks (and drainage) that is supposed to be SOP in all roads (ironically, SOP now means a corruption cut).

I want traffic enforcers who know and understand road rules--no more traffic violation tickets reading "stepping on the line," no more traffic enforcers overriding the traffic signals, no more MMDA men hand-signaling us to meet head-on the oncoming vehicles from the other side they have just directed to move toward us.

I want people showing more concern for their own well-being and their fellowman--no more rude drivers calling you names for keeping to your lane, no more fathers risking his life and those of his three kids crossing the highway instead of the overpass, no more suicidal (perhaps shabu-addicted) drivers doing a 9-11 on helpless pedestrians.

I want stress-free rides everywhere in the Philippines--no more closing of eyes and gripping the seats when the PUV driver dares the devil, racing with another for the next stop full of passengers.

I want world-class road systems--no more Caucasians blindly following Filipinos crossing the street only to stop midway as they realize that the traffic light is still go for cars.

I want order and courtesy back in the streets, please.

Aren't these simple, doable, and useful stuff? Maybe when we're able to understand and abide by simple traffic rules, we'd be able to change the more complex Constitution to suit our needs and aspirations.

Maybe when we have the discipline in our shared spaces, we won't need to take to the streets when our leaders are performing badly because we won't vote for incompetent, corrupt leaders. We would have higher standards.

Maybe when we have gained confidence in what we can do in our public commons and everyday lives, our realized values and empowering experience would move us to show the world a working, progressing system of governance here.

Maybe when we have these, we'd have fewer frustrations and more time and energy for love, family, passion, work, and fun--you know, the things that really matter.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Veronica Uy published on March 18, 2010 9:22 AM.

Top 10 reasons why I joined Edsa '86 was the previous entry in this blog.

Why I am for Gibo is the next entry in this blog.

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