ONE of the recent presidential vetoes was over a bill that would have created the Philippine Transportation Safety Board (PTSB). The proposed agency was to have the power to carry out independent investigations into transport accidents and accidents, whether on land, in the air or at sea, and to make recommendations for the prevention of such accidents. I hope the veto can be overridden by Congress or the bill reintroduced.
The explanation for the veto was that responsibility for investigations was already given to various agencies under the Department of Transportation (DoTr), such as the Land Transportation Office, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, the Philippine Coast Guard, the the maritime industry and the Aircraft Accident. Commission of Inquiry and Inquiry. There are also law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating, such as the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation. The establishment of the PTSB was therefore seen as duplicative and unnecessary. I do not agree. Below, I explain why a PTSB would benefit the ground transportation sector; the same reasons apply to air and sea transport.
Among our many health problems, traffic accidents and deaths are near the top in terms of cost to Philippine society. Every day, on average, 34 people in the Philippines die in road accidents; the annual death toll exceeded 12,000 in some years. The largest share of deaths are among people between the ages of 20 and 29 – middle-aged Filipinos, many of whom are young parents. Road accidents are also the leading cause of death among children. With increasing motorization, more Filipinos are at risk.
Safety advice independent of transit agencies is needed because institutions like the DoTr or the Department of Public Works are unlikely to find fault in their own actions or omissions, or even those of partner government agencies. If the council is able to find ways to make our roads safer, especially for people on foot, on bikes or on public transport (resulting in fewer injuries and deaths from road traffic crashes), there will be huge savings in health care costs, many times more than the council’s proposed budget.
Government agencies should accept unbiased, evidence-based comments on road safety. Otherwise, we will continue to hear the usual explanations from transport and traffic officials for road accidents: lack of discipline, irresponsible behavior, inadequate driver training and human error. These are true to some extent, but we may ignore other probable causes such as poor road design, car-oriented traffic management, lack of proper pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and dangerous vehicles.
A transportation security office would help our agencies apply a “safe systems” approach to transportation security, a strategy advocated by the World Health Organization and successfully applied in many countries. It is based on the premise that human errors are inevitable and to be expected. The aim, therefore, is to design transport systems and infrastructure in such a way that they are “man-proof”. Human error, when it occurs, should not result in death or serious injury.
The council would also campaign for measures that protect vulnerable road users. Some examples of “safe systems” prescriptions are lowering urban speed limits and prioritizing roads for pedestrians. Global best practice is to have a maximum speed limit on urban roads of 30 kilometers per hour (km/h). At higher speeds, the risk of a pedestrian being killed or seriously injured when hit by a car is much greater. If a pedestrian is hit by a car traveling at 80 km/h, the probability of being killed is 60%; at 30 km/h, the risk of death drops to only 10%. With lower speed limits, thousands of lives would be saved.
Roads need to be redesigned to prioritize and protect people who are not in motor vehicles (pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users) – they make up the vast majority and are also the most vulnerable. It is likely that there are many road accidents where technical negligence or design error is the cause of death or injury. In many parts of our cities, sidewalks are narrow or non-existent, forcing pedestrians to walk on the same road space as cars. When a pedestrian on the road is hit by a motor vehicle, it is easy to blame either the driver or the pedestrian. However, the root cause of the accident may have been faulty street design that left pedestrians no choice but to walk in the same road space occupied by motor vehicles. Where tracks are inaccessible or unsafe due to non-compliance or non-compliance with regulations or laws, negligence or dereliction of duty should be reported. A transportation safety council would help highlight where travelers are at risk and how to address them.
To reduce damage, injury and death from transportation accidents, the Philippines needs an agency that will go beyond common “disiplina” explanations, analyze the underlying reasons for transportation incidents, conduct in-depth studies on dangerous situations and will propose effective prescriptions. Relying on existing agencies to make our transport systems safer has not produced the results we need. It’s time to try something different.
Robert Y. Siy is a development economist, urban and regional planner, and public transport advocate. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @RobertRsiy.