So little regard

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It’s become a common refrain: Many foreigners who visit the Philippines often remark about the little regard Filipinos show for their own personal safety. The visitors see Filipinos dash across highways, create their own counterflows or ride motorcycles two or three at a time, without safety helmets on—and they marvel at how much we put ourselves at risk every day.


It takes a horrific accident like the bus spinning off the Skyway in Parañaque City last Monday and landing on a delivery van, killing 18 persons and injuring 16, to make us pause collectively, and reconsider our lack of safety consciousness. And then, for many of us, to get back to life as usual. This explains why, only a day after that Skyway accident, which should have shocked the country’s sprawling bus industry into introspection, unruly buses could be seen racing each other again on Edsa. Perhaps it was the same on the provincial highways.

The sad truth is: We will never learn, until those caught violating the most basic principles of road safety are not forced to pay the steepest possible price. A bus company proven to be at fault in the death of passengers or passersby should be put out of business, period. A bus driver who survives a crash he was proven to be responsible for should be stripped of his professional driver’s license, permanently. A highway or road operator proven to be at fault and liable for a deadly accident should be forced to pay a very steep fine, one that impacts on the bottom line. And government officials proven to be at fault—for allowing bus companies with deadly records, for instance, to continue plying the streets—should be haled to criminal court.

We realize that there are many factors to consider. Quality driver education, for instance, is a must, which means that the actual process by which drivers receive the license to drive must be revamped. As letter-writer Benjamin Agunod argues in today’s Letters page, the basic science behind hydroplaning should be known by every driver: Only a small part of the tire actually touches the road at any one time; in wet conditions, a thin film of water would cause a vehicle to lose even that narrow contact with the road. But judging from daily experience, many Filipino drivers still do not drive at significantly slower speeds when the rains turn our roads slippery.


Regular vehicle inspection is another must. The Don Mariano bus that flew off the Skyway was travelling on very bald tires, which would have made control of the bus problematic even under normal (that is, dry) conditions. Serious periodic inspection—perhaps conducted at highway entrances and exits, by a joint crew staffed by the police and the regulatory agencies, with representatives of the road operator and the bus companies—would have called the attention of the driver of the Don Mariano bus.

But these and other safety measures will not work unless the most important initiative of all becomes a regular, indeed ordinary, fact of life: Violators must be commensurately punished.

Consider the Don Mariano bus company. As early as 2011, it was named by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board the worst bus firm in terms of damage inflicted on property. The following year, one of its buses crashed the railing of a flyover on Edsa; the vehicle teetered on the edge. Thankfully, no lives were lost. And last Monday, it deployed a bus that wasn’t roadworthy, manned by a driver whom many witnesses described as lacking rest. The 30-day suspension meted out on the bus company is not a sanction; rather, it is a requirement of the investigation process.

If the investigation proves, beyond any doubt, that Don Mariano was criminally liable for the horrifying death of 18 victims, is there any reason its deadly track record should be rewarded with a mere suspension, even one lasting several months? It should not be allowed to ply the country’s roads ever again.


Behavior is reinforcement: That is one of the fundamental axioms of psychology. If perpetrators behind such “road safety” crimes as last Monday’s do not feel the full force of the law, they will act as if the law has no force—and they will continue to show little regard for all those lives they put at risk.