June 04, 2006
THE ILOCOS TIMES - OPINION

KA IKING 4U
Ike Señeres

Road safety standards

The “color coding” scheme in Metro Manila is already a generally accepted practice by now, but I still see something that is fundamentally wrong about this approach. Just to put this discussion in the right perspective, governance should be a two-way street, in the sense that taxation should offer a direct benefit for every peso that is taken from the taxpayer’s pocket. Having said that, I would like to say for the record that the “road user’s tax” is actually a form of triple taxation, because it is a specific tax that is imposed on top of two other taxes, namely the income tax and the value added tax. In some local jurisdictions, it is actually a case of quadruple taxation, because it is imposed on top of sales taxes.

Having paid all the taxes that is due the government, motorists have all the right to freely use all the roads, in theory at least. If this is the case, why is their right to freely use being constrained by the “color coding” scheme? I understand why the local jurisdictions in Metro Manila are diligently following this scheme, because there seems to be no other alternative as of now. But should this really be the case? Should this scheme really go on forever? By the way, there is another issue that is related to this topic, and that is the right of car owners to maximize the use of their asset, having invested their money into it.

Now going straight to my point, I think that there are two ways to improve the flow of traffic in Metro Manila. One way is to maximize the available road surface, and the other way is to strictly enforce safety and emission standards. These two approaches are actually inter-related to each other. If the “supply” of available (or navigable) road surface is increased, then the “demand” for controlling the volume of vehicles could decrease. Still on the subject of rights, there are many owners and occupants of structures on the roads that have no right to be there, meaning that they are using the road surface illegally. Conversely, if non-compliant vehicles are removed from the roads, then the “demand” for road surface could be reduced.

Our failure to implement the Clean Air Act actually has a direct correlation to color coding scheme. This is so because if only the law was implemented, the “supply” of vehicles would have been reduced. If the government really wants to be fair, it would have been fairer to “punish” those who do not comply with the laws, rather than “reward” those who did not comply, by giving them the “right” to use the roads, by freely taking part in the coding scheme. Take note at this point that since there is no enforcement of vehicle safety standards in this country, unsafe vehicles are allowed to use the roads, at great risks to the taxpayers who paid for the construction of these roads.

As far as I know, the function of the Land Transportation Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is to grant transport franchises, while the function of the Land Transportation Commission (LTC) is to issue vehicle registrations and driver licenses. Between these two agencies however, which of them makes sure that the vehicles being registered (based on franchises granted) are safe for road travel? As I understand it, there seems to be no procedure for inspecting compliance with vehicle safety standards. What this means is that any vehicle that is submitted for registration (assuming that a franchise has been granted) is just presumed to be safe, without anyone checking on anything.

It’s either part of our national culture, or it is really part of human nature for people to be alarmed only when many victims die from a highly publicized disaster, but not when victims die from “slow deaths” or unseen emergencies that are not reported in the news. Based on actual numbers however, it is highly possible that more people are dying now from the lethal effects of air pollution within a one year period, compared to the total number of victims who perish in road accidents within the same one year period. Unfortunately right now, no attention is given to national concerns that do not make it to the headlines

The debate will still go on whether the culprit is our culture or our human nature, but in the meantime, I would say that the low state of our road safety standards is directly due to the low expectations of the people themselves. To illustrate my point, very few roads in this country could be considered as “safe”, except perhaps for the North and South Expressways. Even with this sad situation, no one seems to be complaining, and everyone seems to be just waiting for another accident to happen. Apparently, the first thing that we should improve or upgrade is our level of awareness when it comes to road safety standards.

-o0o-

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