At the frontlines for safer Philippine motoring

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Alberto “Bert” Suansing stands beside a 1932 Austin Morris displayed at the office of the Automobile Association of the Philippines along Edsa, Greenhills, San Juan City.

Alberto “Bert” Suansing stands beside a 1932 Austin Morris displayed at the office of the Automobile Association of the Philippines along Edsa, Greenhills, San Juan City.

THIRTY-FOUR. This is the average number of people who will die in a road crash somewhere in our country by today’s end, according to Philippine Global Road Safety Partnership (PGRSP) Secretary General Alberto “Bert” Suansing. These thirty-four could include mothers, fathers, son s or daughters. These thirty-four could include friends, lovers, husbands or wives.

These thirty-four could include you and your loved ones.

Unlike many things in our country, age, religion, civil status, educational attainment and even money cannot and do not exempt us from encountering road crashes. You could be a tricycle driver working overtime to provide for your family, a president of a multi-million-peso corporation rushing to an important directors’ meeting or even a six-year-old child sleeping soundly in the backseat of your parents’ car.

When a road crash happens, it can strike with deadly and unforgiving accuracy.


Early realization
Suansing was jolted by this harsh truth early in his life as a trucking operator in his family’s transport business, when two of his trucks figured in a crash at Barangay Layac, located at the municipality of Dinalupihan, Bataan province.

“At first, I thought of giving up the business. I never realized that such an incident would happen to me,” he said. “But I told myself that I’ll still continue with the business and learn its rigors, including how to make my operation safe.”

Since then, Suansing has made safer roads and drivers a personal mission, something very useful for his current assignment.

PGRSP
The PGRSP, which was set up in 2009 as a local chapter of the Global Road Safety Partnership based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a non-profit organization aiming to reduce road-crash fatalities by collecting data on road crashes nationwide and implementing programs to educate everyone from regular motorists to urban planners on internationally established best motoring practices. With Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP) Chairman Gus Lagman also chairing this organization, Bert was made its secretary general in 2010 shortly after he left government service.

“Five years ago, I thought ‘That’s it’ as far as my career in involving myself in road safety is concerned,” Suansing said. “I was attending a road-safety meeting at the time, since I was representing the Safety Organization of the Philippines, when they asked me if I could be the Executive Director of PGRSP. And to entice me, they even changed the title from executive director to secretary general.”

The group is based at the AAP main office along Edsa (a short stroll from the Ford Edsa dealership). To ensure the participation of all sectors, the agency has partnered with both government and non-government groups that include the Department of Transportation and Communications, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Health, the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc., and the Motorcycle Development Program Participants Association Inc., among many others.

Alongside road-safety organizations like the Safety Organization of the Philippines and Safe Kids Philippines, the PGRSP is likewise part of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety, which aims to halve the number of road-crash fatalities worldwide (presently at around 1.2 million annually) by 2020 through its five pillars: Road safety management; Safer roads and mobility; Safer vehicles; Safer road users; and Post-crash response.

The state of Philippine road safety
Many scoff at the idea of putting the words “Philippine” and “road safety” in the same phrase, but the advances here are what gave rise to important road safety measures like dedicated truck and motorcycle lanes on major highways and speed limits on large thoroughfares like Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. But Suansing said much more has to be done, particularly for the fourth pillar of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety framework, which is ensuring road discipline and implementing better driver training.

“As far as safer vehicles are concerned, new models of motor vehicles have been coming in with important safety features as standard,” he said. “With regards to safer roads, the DPWH is trying its best to construct roads in accordance to standards. What is really left is how you use them properly.”

Suansing said there are three major causes of road crashes: driver error, motor-vehicle defects and poor road conditions. He said driver error accounts for four out of five road crashes in the country and is caused by bad driving behavior as a result of ignorance, carelessness and stupidity.

For the first cause, he said this is largely because drivers get their licenses through fixers (thus avoiding the exams) and don’t even bother to study road-traffic laws like Republic Act (RA) 4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code. For the second cause, he said careless drivers are those who still choose to drive, even though they can’t because they are drunk or sleepy. And he attributed the third cause to insufficient driver education (which isn’t mandatory under RA 4136), even though driving schools have improved over the last few years.

“Even if you drive the best and most technologically advanced motor vehicle, if you are an ignorant, irresponsible and stupid driver, you’ll still meet road crashes,” he added.

A gargantuan task
Even though the World Health Organization (WHO), in its 2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety, ranked the Philippines as one of the countries with good death registration data, Suansing said databases to accurately record road crashes is still in the works. Additionally, the PGRSP is part of numerous projects that aim to improve driving behavior.

“Misbehaving drivers are not a monopoly of public utility vehicle [PUV] drivers,” he said.

One of the organization’s biggest projects is the Child Safety Initiative (CSI) being run by Volkswagen Philippines. VW Philippines Corporate Affairs head Arnel Doria spearheads the CSI campaign while Suansing lectures in its workshops.

“What we impart to these children is obedience to rules,” he said. “That’s what Filipino motorists lack. They may know and understand road traffic laws, but many choose to disobey these.”

The PGRSP has also coordinated with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to spread awareness on the dangers of “drug driving,” which the WHO said in its report is a growing cause of road crashes worldwide, both for drivers using legal and illegal drugs. The PGRSP also works with transport groups to conduct road safety briefings, especially for PUV drivers.

“We want to impart to these drivers two things. One is pakikipagkapwa-tao [a sense of community]. We tell them that they’re not the only ones driving on the road. There are also other road users. The other is the value of life. It seems that drivers disregard this when they take chances,” he said.

Despite the difficulties promoting road safety in the Philippines, Suansing said he’s hoping things can change.

“It’s a gargantuan task,” he said. “But we need to do it. The number of drivers who are behaving improperly is increasing, seemingly in proportion to the number of motor vehicles on the road. That has to be corrected. One death is too many.”

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