OVER the centuries of human civilization, certain brave souls have strived to counter the “norm,” the “accepted” or the status quo, seemingly insurmountable as their battles may be.
In motoring, historian Virginia Scharff wrote in her 1991 book Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age how early 20th-century American women, who society had relegated to the misery of transporting themselves in dreadful electric cars, fought for the “privilege” of driving petrol-powered cars that were then considered exclusively as “men’s cars.” Their victory ensured that women today could drive whatever vehicle they want, despite the continuing insistence on the derogatory “girl’s cars.”
Arnel Doria looks to be one of these brave souls by proffering the ultimate fantasy of every responsible and law-abiding Filipino motorist: Safer roads and better drivers in the Philippines. His strategy? Start them young.
“It’s designed for them to use in the future,” he said. “They may not remember everything, but some of it will stick.”
VW Child Safety Initiative
Volkswagen Philippines, which returned to the country on September 2013 under the Ayala Group, first hired him as their vice-president for marketing and sales. By September next year, he was made the brand’s marketing director.
During that stint, a German expatriate visiting the Philippines commented how “crazy” Filipino drivers were. The company then asked Doria to devise a corporate social responsibility project related to road safety.
Planning started in February 2015, culminating in the brand’s Child Safety Initiative (CSI) that debuted to great acclaim at the 2015 Manila International Auto Show last April. Doria said he was even surprised by the campaign’s strong reception at the show.
“All the other carmakers had sexy ladies and beautiful cars on display while our booth was full of kids playing on our simulated road course, with our cars to one side,” he said. “It really clicked, both for the auto show’s attendees and for the media. Even some of our competitors brought their kids to our stand to participate.”
The CSI campaign of VW Philippines is a road-safety workshop for kids aged four- to eight-years old, together with their parents. Partnered with Robinson’s Malls, VW Philippines holds these 45-minute workshops at a portable lecture area and driving course, where instructors from the Philippine Global Road Safety Partnership (and even ex-Land Transportation Office chief Alberto Suansing) teach them about basic driving rules, road signs and road markings. The kids even get Volkswagen driver’s licenses afterwards.
“It’s 50-percent learn, 50-percent play for the kids,” he said. “But we are really targeting the parents here, who we are confident get 100-percent education from these workshops and thus become better and more disciplined drivers.”
So far, Doria said 3,500 children and 2,800 parents have taken part in the CSI campaign. In July 2015, he managed the project full-time when he became the company’s corporate affairs director. Apart from Robinson’s, he has received offers to conduct the CSI campaign at SM Malls nationwide and even in Ayala’s own malls.
Starting with motoring media
But Doria’s foray into promoting better driving actually began nearly two decades ago when he started the Honda Media Challenge in 1996 as a member of Honda Cars Philippines Inc.’s (HCPI) marketing team.
The Media Challenge is a racing event where motoring journalists join a performance-driving workshop, handled by rally champion Vip Isada, and then run laps around a race track to get the best time.
“A lot of reporters back then didn’t know how to drive a car properly, yet they wrote about cars,” he said. “Through this, we were able to give them technical knowledge that they can use when reviewing a car and, indirectly, we were able to show them how superior Honda’s cars are to the other garden-variety brands.”
Honda Safety Driving Center
After doing the Media Challenge for nearly 10 years, Doria looked at what else Honda could do to bolster its corporate social responsibility philosophy. He found his answer while watching morning news shows in 2005.
“Every morning, I would watch a segment on a motorcycle or a car that had crashed the night before,” he said. “These crashes had become a staple on these shows and even got the front page of newspapers.”
Studying local and international data on both fatal and non-fatal road crashes, along with interviews with road-safety experts, Doria was shocked to see how the number of casualties rose year-on-year, seemingly in correlation with the increasing number of vehicles on the road, especially motorcycles.
“More often than not, a motorcycle crash involved a Honda,” he said. “As one of the country’s biggest sellers of cars and bikes, I felt that our company had a responsibility to its consumers.”
So in 2006, he proposed the Honda Safety Driving Center (HSDC), a driving school following international driving standards, conducted in a simulated driving course. But despite the HCPI president’s best efforts, the Honda head and regional offices wouldn’t give it the green light. Doria, however, would not be deterred.
“I asked if I could be part of the presentation at the next meeting,” he said. “They agreed. And when I got called and explained the project with conviction, since I was fully convinced of what good this could do, the board approved the project, along with the hundreds of millions of pesos in budget that we asked for, on the spot.”
Construction of the 2.5-hectare HSDC started in 2007 at the former Mariwasa Honda motorcycle factory lot in Parañaque City. Opening in 2008, the facility still operates today and offers lessons for both car and motorcycle learners, even if they don’t own a Honda.
Safe T Ryders
After leaving HCPI in 2010, Arnel continued his road-safety advocacy by opening his own driving school, Safe T Ryders, in 2011 at the vacant lot behind the Ortigas Home Depot in Pasig City.
“When I was invited to road-safety meetings, I learned that there was no dedicated motorcycle-riding school in the country,” he said. “The ‘Ryders,’ however, is a misnomer now because we are planning to offer car-driving courses as well.”
Doria added he hired more instructors and managers to handle the school when Volkswagen took him in. The facility is still operating today.
A career educator
Doria said road safety follows the “Three Es:” engineering, enforcement and education. Since he is neither an engineer nor a law enforcer, he has developed road-safety modules over the years to teach people ranging from little kids to veteran drivers.
This certainly ties well with his background, graduating with a degree in Secondary Education, majoring in Chemistry, from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Prior to entering the motoring industry, Doria started his career in 1980 as a chemistry and math professor at the Philippine Women’s University and its JASMS-affiliate.
From 1984 to 1986, he took technical training on chemistry education in Osaka and Nara under the Japanese Monbusho scholarship. When he returned to the Philippines on December 1986, he said an acquaintance from business consultancy firm John Clements was looking for Japanese-speaking, mid-level executives who could join Japanese firms that wanted to invest in the country after President Corazon Aquino’s rise to power. Doria eventually joined Honda Motorcycles in 1987, transferring to HCPI in 1990.
“My background in different theories in pedagogy has become handy even in marketing because of acquired skills in motivating people,” he said. “I am also aware of the different stages of motor and cognitive skills of children and teenagers, which is critical in designing learning modules. Moreover, science education has trained me to approach each problem and opportunity through the scientific method.”
Need for better driving standards
Although Doria said driver education has improved greatly over the past five years because of better driving schools, more can be done to improve road safety through not only stricter implementation of rules, but also amending the country’s outdated driving laws.
“Republic Act 4136 [or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code]does not mandate driver education to get a license,” he said. “Any Tom, Dick and Harry can go to the LTO and get a license, so long as he or she fulfills the requirements.”
He further said countries like Singapore used to have high crash rates, but the imposition of mandatory driver education reduced those rates greatly.
Doria said all he does are little “trickles here and there,” in comparison to what he estimates to be approximately 20 million driver’s license holders in the Philippines.
In a country with an increasing number of vehicles on the road, there is a need to collectively create a deluge to promote a culture of road safety, much like those American women long ago who just wanted to drive a good car.
“All of the historical changes in society, somebody had to start it,” he said. “Maybe, a bigger organization will see what we are doing now and do it on a bigger scale. That’s fine. But at least somebody has introduced that idea. It has to start somewhere.”