• Breaking a deadly cycle

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    It’s a ritual that is replayed every time buses are involved in deadly mishaps.

    After the dead are retrieved and the injured “rushed to hospital” (a much-abused cliché), speculations are offered as to what caused the tragedy. The usual suspects are faulty brakes, driver error, adverse road conditions and inclement weather.

    Transport authorities announce the launching of an inquiry, police prepare to press charges, the bus owner vows compensation.

    The bus fleet is grounded, and politicians make noise about the need to keep “killer buses” off the road.

    The buzz lingers for a week, maybe two or three, before it dissipates. As it fades from public consciousness, the government’s fervor to determine accountability loses momentum and eventually sighs to a stop.

    Until the next big tragedy comes along, and the Sisyphean cycle begins again.

    Last week, at least 14 people were killed and scores injured when a bus tumbled down a ravine in Bontoc, Mountain Province. Now the same scenario is playing out, and the same knee-jerk reactions have surfaced.

    One such reaction came from Malacañang. Over the weekend, the Palace spokesman announced that on the President’s orders, the Transportation and Communication secretary and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board have begun surprise inspections at bus terminals and garages to find out if bus companies fully comply with safety regulations and if they keep their units roadworthy at all times.

    It is doubtful if such a band-aid measure can dramatically reduce the number of accidents involving buses. Malacañang could have come up with a more believable sound bite.

    It is time to break the vicious pattern and take more resolute action.

    Two proposals to prevent bus mishaps merit a closer look.

    In the House of Representatives, two measures that will require the installation of security cameras in buses are said to be fast gaining support.

    The bills, filed separately by Paranaque City’s Eric Olivarez and Cavite’s Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, are actually designed to deter bus robberies, but it could also record the moments just before an accident that could help investigators determine what caused it.

    The security camera could be the equivalent of an airplane’s black box, or flight data recorder.

    The other proposal, put forward by Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, mandates the installation of speed limiters on buses.

    A speed limiter is an electronic device that prevents a vehicle from going faster than a preprogrammed speed. It has long been in use in public transport in Great Britain and other Western countries.

    Under the Ejercito measure, a bus’ speed limiter can be calibrated to conform to the speed limit in a particular highway – 60 kilometers per hour for EDSA, and 80 kph for the North and South Luzon Expressways and other tollways.

    The senator has said he expects bus operators to howl at his proposal because it is an added expense that will cut into their profits. But the busmen forget that compensating the victims of bus accidents is a far greater expense.

    A security camera and speed limiter are by far the most practical proposals to reduce bus related mishaps. But they will not save lives or prevent accidents if they remain just that: proposals.

    We challenge our officials to transform those measures from blueprint to reality.

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