IT looks like the Department of Transportation and its connected agencies will be forced to postpone the implementation of RA 10913, or the Act Defining and Penalizing Distracted Driving. Senators JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay have stepped in (JournalOnline, May 22, 2017), knocking some sense into the DOTr’s over-interpretation—if not power trip—which will allow them to penalize drivers for even taking a drink from a coffee tumbler, or having rosaries hanging on their rearview mirrors, or air fresheners on their dashboards.
Essentially, RA 10913 only penalizes the use of mobile and digital devices while driving, i.e., having it in your hands when you should have those hands on the wheel, reading or writing a text message when your eyes should be on the road. Senator Binay says it best about the DOTr’s IRR: “Parang kung saan-saan na napunta.”
Thankfully, there is enough katangahan in the IRR for it to be stopped – if not for us to protest and resist being penalized based on it.
More importantly, it has highlighted the question of distractions, what that means for drivers, and what else we should be blaming for road mishaps.
I’ve got my line of sight on those billboards.
Blame the billboards (too!)
The first thing I thought of when I heard of the anti-distracted driving law, including the huge P5,000 fine for first offenses, was the fact that while drivers are going to be penalized in such a huge way—and for so many different reasons—there are no penalties at all for those who have messed up our roads and have ensured that we will be distracted, phone or no phone.
Because there is no way of driving down Edsa, from Quezon City to Magallanes, and even when you’re driving at high speed on the Skyway, that you will not be met by huge billboards, right on your line of sight, if not a little higher, and sometimes on both sides of the road.
Driving towards Manila from SLEX on Monday, by the time we hit the Alabang flyover we knew we were drawing closer to the city. Because there was Kris Aquino selling sardines, Dayanara Torres selling some facelift by Belo, Maine Mendoza selling tocino. Soon enough: Vic Sotto with a dog selling some real estate or bank or health plan, Matteo Guidicelli and Xian Lim with winsome smiles, a product to beat UTI, God telling me to read the Bible.
This is the thing: it is difficult to blame drivers for being distracted by their mobile phones when our roads are seas of distractions, where we are being sold everything from food to beauty, beer to instant noodles, clothes to accessories, even faith and ideology. And no, you don’t get to tell drivers that they have no right to be distracted by these billboards because they must keep their eyes on the road: the reason these billboards exist is because these have been proven to work, and a measure of its success is the fact that I remember these ads and the images these hold.
And we’re not even talking yet about women’s cleavages selling everything from alcohol to clothing brands, lingerie to underwear, and shirtless men selling the benefits of a canned tuna diet.
Driven to distraction
I take that phrase from a Huffpost blog by Dave Meslin (September 6, 2014), which actually talks about digital billboards in America, as premised on billboards in general. Meslin explains:
“The outdoor advertising industry has one singular goal: to get your attention. For a hundred years, we’ve had billboards scattered across our cities shouting out their messages about new cars, jeans, fast food and the latest television shows. But billboards only work if you notice them. So, increasingly, they are getting bigger and brighter in an effort to distract a larger audience.”
That audience is us, pedestrians and commuters, private and public utility vehicle drivers. And while we must take responsibility for distractions that we have control over, it is very clear that an amount of blame must be put on those who have enabled the current state of our highways and thoroughfares, where practically every available space is used to sell something, regardless of the dangers these advertisements cause.
We’re not just talking about billboards on the sides of the streets anymore, too. Right on Edsa, the middle island has become space for advertisements as well. These are even more dangerous because they form a series of interconnected advertisements for one product, demanding that drivers read from one tarpaulin to the next.
And yes, we’ve got digital billboards, too. Right on Camp Aguinaldo-Edsa there is a digital billboard that sometimes announces job openings; on Edsa-East Avenue on Monday night a Coco Martin ad was selling sardines, the full narrative of a commercial running in a loop for vehicles that ply the road.
No one can convince me that those digital billboards and the bombardment of standard billboards do not distract me as a driver. And if the distraction wrought by mobile phones might be seen as dangerous, then these billboards could only be just as hazardous.
An extra challenge
I’m all for the implementation of the Anti-Distracted Driving Act as written; the DOTr needs to get its head screwed on right and see that this was solely about the use of mobile phones and digital devices while driving.
But I am against yet another token law that will do nothing but penalize drivers for being distracted, without actually removing road distractions. Those billboards should be No 1 on any daring, intelligent lawmaker’s list of what must go if our goal is safer streets, free of distractions and distracted drivers. The pushback will be huge – billboards are a profitable business after all.
One waits for the one who will rise to this challenge. In the meantime: no to distracted driving. Take down those billboards.