Who is responsible for road safety?

December 19, 2013 4:40 PM

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In my lifetime work as a journalist, I have trained myself to reduce seemingly complex situations into the simplest elements. I look at the big picture and zero in on what is important. That is how to write a good lede paragraph and a good headline.

For the events of the past week, my simplistic and non-technocratic mind told me the bus accident which killed 18 people was more worthy of presidential attention than the SM robbery. Not only were real people killed by the Don Mariano bus mishap, it also exposed a lot of things wrong with our regulatory agencies responsible for keeping public transportation safe.

I also think those affected by the bus tragedy are poor and ordinary people who need government intervention to get justice. SM on the other hand can take care of itself. Indeed, it is likely the failure of their security people made that daring robbery possible. SM’s losses are just accounting entries recoverable from insurance. The bus victims lost their lives, the families lost loved ones, many of whom are breadwinners.

But that’s just me, simple ol’ me. I do not pretend I can think like a President or a cabinet member responsible for the national police. All I can do is wonder what brought them running to SM North EDSA but totally ignore the bus accident.

Anyway, government is responsible for road safety. Right now, both the DOTC and DPWH can point to each other and they will be correct.

DOTC through its line agencies LTO and LTFRB is accountable. LTO is responsible for assuring driver competence and enforcing the rules of the road. Public transport regulation is the realm of LTFRB.

DPWH, on the other hand, is responsible for assuring our highways are properly engineered for safety and maintained to remain such. DOTC and DPWH through TRB are responsible for the regulation of toll roads like that expensive Skyway where vehicles seem to have a propensity of jumping off to the road below.

As far as that Don Mariano bus accident is concerned, I would blame the DOTC agencies for negligence and failure to properly regulate. We are only learning now, after the fact, that the bus company is a serial violator of laws, including labor laws and LTFRB must have known this for a long time but took no action.

Indeed, LTFRB is not even sure who really owns all those buses. The LTFRB chairman was at a loss trying to trace the mess of corporations that supposedly own some 80 buses.

The LTO has also been caught remiss with this accident. They are telling us after the fact again that most of the Don Mariano buses failed to pass the physical test they conducted after the accident. Most of the buses have worn tire threads and have other safety violations that would normally require the LTO to deny registration.

The LTO has also apparently failed to test the bus drivers for competence in driving those buses. They also failed to do spot checks of those bus drivers which should have been done given the notoriety of those drivers.

Okay… so we know all these now… what happens next? Routine suspension for just 30 days after an accident is no longer enough. We need both agencies to do what they have been neglecting to do for the longest time. Stiff fines should be imposed and the bus franchise or franchises revoked.

Families of victims should also be assisted to sue the bus company owners so that proper, rather than token death compensation, is paid. The owners should be made personally liable, not just the bus company. Unless this is done, other bus operators will not get the message that they need to behave and follow the laws.

This is not the first time a bus or a vehicle has jumped off the Skyway. I think the Skyway management should also be held liable for damages. Lax enforcement of traffic safety rules including violation of the speed limit is obvious in this case.

It is not surprising that road accidents have increased in recent times. In 2011, the MMDA, the agency responsible for the region where nearly half of the country’s 7.6 million motor vehicles are, reported 77,110 accidents. That’s 370, or one a day that resulted in fatalities; 15,827, or two every hour, were non-fatal injuries; and 60,913, or one every seven minutes, caused damage to property.

With those kamikaze bus drivers and yes, motorcycle riders too in city streets, risking road carnage is fast becoming a way of life for Metro Manilans and for many others in the provinces. Is this our new population control program?

Government should invest on road safety. In the provinces, it is pretty common for vehicles, specially buses, to fall off ravines in mountain roads. It is easy to blame the driver for such accidents but road engineering has a lot to do with it too.

It is often about physics and bodies in motion. Drivers ignore speed limits because they are not told those limits are being imposed based on the particular characteristics of the road… Drivers must be made to understand no one can defy the laws of physics and live.

The matter of road signs is also important. That’s one thing we are very deficient in this country. Even simple directional signs are often absent so that confused motorists end up getting lost or getting into an accident. I am sure we have enough funds to provide for proper signs in public roads the way the private expressway have them.

Indeed, according to Senator Ralph Recto, about P800 million – representing the mandatory 7.5 percent – of the P11.7 billion collected last year from motor vehicle registration fees, is the minimum amount available annually for “road safety” programs.

I agree with Sen. Ralph that “all collections from the road user’s tax must be spent for road safety.” For background, Republic Act 8794 tucks in a Motor Vehicle User’s Charge (MVUC) in every vehicle’s annual registration, based primarily on vehicle weight.

During the Arroyo watch, the money collected here had been wasted in frivolous and anomalous expenditures. It became a personal piggy bank for a chosen few close to the administration. I don’t remember anyone being punished for misspending our road users’ tax.

MVUC collections are placed in four special accounts in the National Treasury: Special Road Support Fund (80 percent), Special Local Road Fund (five percent), Special Vehicle Pollution Control Fund (7.5 percent) and Special Road Safety Fund (7.5 percent).

Sen Recto points out that the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the law states that the “Special Road Safety Fund” should be used for “roadway improvements and repairs designed to reduce conflicts in traffic flow and the likelihood and severity of accidents.”

Thus, the fund can be used not only for “traffic signals, markings, lanes, traffic channelization techniques, traffic calming measures”, but also for “road safety education and training programs.” I suppose it can also be used to introduce high technology to assure compliance to traffic rules including speed radars that are common abroad.

As a motorist, I see the urgency of using this fund to as Sen. Ralph puts it, “to light dark places especially tunnels and underpasses.” Those EDSA underpasses are too dark by international standards. The long one from Pasong Tamo to Buendia is so dark vehicles have to put their headlights on. Of course, deadly accidents have happened in these dark underpasses.

The committee charged with controlling expenditures of this fund is composed of a seven-man Road Board chaired by the Secretary of Public Works and Highways. Its other members are the Budget, Finance and Transportation and Communications secretaries, and three private sector representatives appointed by the President.

According to Sen Recto, collections are expected to hit more than P12 billion this year. Treated as “off-budget” items, meaning details of their spending are not included in the national budget, collections from this road users’ tax are almost like pork barrel funds. The powers-that-be have almost full discretion on how the money is spent.

But in the end, everything depends on enforcement. Davao is doing tough enforcement of speed rules now and has seen a decline in road accidents. Hindi puedeng basta bahala na kayo sa buhay nyo.

That’s why I think these highway deaths have a better claim on Presidential attention than a mall robbery case. We can only hope our President eventually sees it that way too.

Q: What’s the difference between cheating on your taxes and cheating on your wife?

Source: philstar.com

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