‘Some traffic . . .’



ACCORDING to a recent article, the PNP Highway Patrol recorded 15,572 road accidents in 2014. This is an average of just over 42 a day throughout the whole of the Philippines. There were 1,252 deaths caused in these accidents. The number of accidents seems a bit on the understated side to me, but I guess the number doesn’t include the minor bumps that happen, which cause negligible damage but which manage to so frequently upset people and block up the road and traffic flow.

In the UK there were 138,660 reported road accidents in 2013, causing 1,608 deaths. In the Philippines there are about 7.5 million vehicles on the road; in the UK, 35 million. There are 270,000 km of roads in the Philippines and 394,000 km in UK.

Statistically speaking, roads in the UK are more densely packed than roads in the Philippines; 89 vehicles per kilometer as opposed to 28 vehicles per kilometer. Because of this, the traffic should flow better in the Philippines, you would think. It doesn’t, though, due to many factors including the preponderance of slow vehicles on narrow and often poor quality roads and the rather uncoordinated traffic management and the weird “road sense” that prevails.

The statistics seem to indicate that there is a far better chance of being killed in a road accident in the Philippines than is the case in the UK; it is eight times more likely. A factor in this could be the traffic itself, which makes it very difficult for the emergency services to get where they need to be.

Anyway, all that is what the official statistics indicate and as is often the case with statistics, it’s all a bit counter to observation and experience. Certainly the roads in the UK don’t seem as packed as the roads around here.

Driving in the Philippines is an adventure. If ever there were a case of “things don’t always happen as you would expect”, driving is an excellent example. People will cut across several lanes of traffic to make a last-minute turn; they hug the center line on roads, expecting others to “overtake” on the inside; and on main multi-lane highways, they show no regard for lane discipline whatsoever. They stop to let traffic enter a major road from a minor road and they just turn cars and trucks around wherever they feel like it.

Pedestrians just walk out into major roads holding out their hand to stop the traffic, and nobody pays the least attention to pedestrian crossings. In fact, there is probably a better chance of a pedestrian being run over on an official pedestrian crossing than there is if they just walk out into the road and hold their hand up!

I used to enjoy driving but now in the UK, it is so rigidly controlled there is little fun in it. Speed cameras abound and the traffic police are everywhere and even though the standard of driving is in general quite good [everybody takes a driving test for example and is aware of the rules]it’s so easy to get into trouble. In the Philippines, the standard of driving leaves much to be desired and no doubt the reason why there are so comparatively few accidents is because the traffic moves so slowly. I can only surmise that the high number of fatalities is related to a combination of pedestrian ill discipline and driver incompetence. Filipino pedestrians really need to demonstrate a much better appreciation of driver competence—then they may not step out into the road quite so casually with their babes in arms.

As for traffic flows—the only good thing to say about this is that if you screw up the traffic flows enough, you will probably have less serious accidents because for a lot of the time, the traffic just moves from one traffic jam to the next in a fairly short distance. I remember a friend in Malaysia joking that there were so many sets of traffic lights in Kuala Lumpur because the suppliers of the equipment were generous with their “incentives.” Lots of traffic lights in Metro Manila too!

But writing about driving and the traffic in the Philippines is really an old chestnut, it has been written about so many times already. And this is, of course, the point. Everybody knows how bad it is, the massive amounts of time and money that get wasted and the unnecessary fatalities brought about by how the roads are, but nothing changes. It just gets worse.

Some new roads get built but the growth in the number of cars which quickly fill them up is trumpeted as yet another indicator of good economic progress and nothing useful is done about the management of the traffic. Attempts at improvement seem to be restricted to putting up more traffic lights and hiring more traffic enforcers rather than studying and analyzing traffic flows. Can’t lines of vehicles going in opposite directions at traffic light-controlled intersections be allowed to cross at the same time, for example? Don’t the traffic authorities have to approve the development of new malls and high-rise developments in consideration of their effects on traffic flows? Don’t they consider the needs of emergency services like ambulances? Don’t they realize that an accident in Makati can cause tailbacks in Sucat?

The traffic in Metro Manila is a nightmare and unless somebody starts studying the traffic flows and coming up with some more creative thinking than “let’s have more traffic lights or hire another 5,000 traffic enforcers,” the place is just going to grind to a shuddering halt. It would be so nice to be able to know just how long a journey is actually going to take from, say, Alabang to Ortigas!

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.


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