During the recent holiday season I had the pleasure of spending Christmas and New Year in the USA with my parents. It was also an opportunity for me to drive there extensively, and I discovered some things that are worth noting about their road system. I'm not going to rant about how much better their roads and traffic rules are in comparison to ours; that would be too easy. Besides, if I really hated driving here I wouldn't have become a motoring journalist.
Instead, I'm going to talk about the constructive things I learned that we can actually implement here in our neck of the woods. These observations could lead to suggestions that don't cost money or don't require a first-world economy. It's mind-boggling how simple some of them can be. Here we go:
1. Speed limits. Okay, I'll admit that following this in the US sucked. There would be stretches of road where I wanted to drive fast, but I had to glance at the speed limits posted on the road first. And in the residential neighborhoods it can go as slow as 25mph (40kph). I understand the need for this because of the high density of people living in the area, but on late nights the empty roads are just calling for a burst of speed. Of course the advantage of speed limits is safer streets during the night and day, if we had legitimate speed limits there might not be that accident in White Plains which killed racing enthusiast Chris Guevara and passenger Noey Cuenca a few weeks ago. It was quite an adjustment adapting to following speed limits coming from our streets that have none (of course the traffic in Metro Manila kind of imposes its own speed limits). But I followed the US law to the letter, because of...
2. Effective traffic enforcers. Unlike the vague and ambiguous traffic enforcers we have here, US policemen are black and white when it comes to the law, you either break the law or you don't. I know the speed limits have some allowance, if the speed limit says 25mph you can go up to 30 or 35mph; but if you're caught doing 40mph, you will pay $150 regardless of what media outfit you're connected with or who your godfather is.
More to the point, it would be great to have traffic enforcers who know the law and can explain them to you. Normally we have traffic enforcers who are just indoctrinated with basic laws ("no plate, no travel") or are directed to milk catch as many violators as they can without an understanding of the bigger traffic picture (like hiding behind pillars instead of being visible deterrents). If you ask them the concept of, let's say, swerving and why it disrupts traffic, you'll just spend precious minutes of your life debating on what's swerving or not, when in fact it's really easy to solve the issue of illegal lane changes: just use...
3. Painted lines. I consider myself smarter than the average Juan. I finished college, I'm well-read, I know my current events, and I think calling Wowowee contrived tripe would be a compliment. So why, for the life of me, can't I be sure of where to change lanes when going to Robinsons Galleria northbound from EDSA? You know that portion from ADB up to Robinsons crawling with MMDA enforcers? That has always been a twilight zone for me because at some point a few years back the designated lane change was near the barrier, which I thought construed "swerving," then they moved it (without visible notice) further up to the MRT station.
Now I have to mention how the educated state of bus drivers (which I put somewhere between a retard and a zombie) makes it difficult to anticipate your lane and transfer accordingly. It takes a lot of concentration not to be crushed by jostling buses.
While driving in the US, I noticed all the lanes were marked in either solid lines or broken lines. It's elementary: you can change lanes when the line is broken, and you have to stay in your lane when the line is solid. When you see double solid lines, you have to absolutely remain in your lane. It's not rocket science, and it works. It was crystal clear to me when I can and cannot change lane, I don't have to look for the opportunistic look in a traffic enforcer's face to realize I swerved at the wrong point. Can't we paint our streets accordingly?
If the MMDA has the budget to make billboards of Bayani's face (now there's an opportunistic look if I ever saw one), can't they spare funds for paint? Once our streets are lined and painted accordingly, the next big step to a better traffic system would be to...
4. Implement a better, more relevant driving test--and follow it. When my father applied for his US driver's license, it took him more than one try to get it right (sorry, Pa!). This is because the actual driving test is so strict, little mistakes are enough for the driving instructor to flunk you.
Now, here in our country, do you know of anyone or heard of anyone who flunked their driving test, both written and actual? What does that say about the kind of licensed drivers we're putting on our roads?
Case in point: it's a typical rush hour situation, and the streets are teeming with cars. The light facing one side of the intersection turns green, after a minute the cars that have crossed over have filled the other side of the intersection, and the light is about to turn yellow. For any driver with a functional IQ waiting to cross the intersection, it's apparent that to cross while the other side is still full of cars would only block the intersection when the next side turns green. So the logical solution is to not cross until there's space on the other side. But do drivers here pause? No, their primeval instinct is to surge and occupy every inch of available free space, and when the next side's light turns green, they're stuck in the middle of the intersection blocking the way, exacerbating traffic for everyone.
This sort of thing doesn't happen in the US. Drivers don't block the road, they don't swerve suddenly, and they give way when you activate your turn signals. This doesn't just show intelligence, it shows consideration. And a full-fledged driving test can show which drivers have these two attributes. Of course the risk of implementing this system is Mang Jimmy who can barely read and write might not pass the test, and all he's trying to do is earn a decent living. But what about those who slip through the system, those who are careless about their freedom to drive and cost lives through recklessness? How many accidents have we seen that were caused by blatant driver error or poor judgement?
I believe a main cause of traffic in our metro are the bad drivers who don't see the bigger picture or make judgements based on the greater motoring good. Eliminate these saps, and the world will be a better place. You have to break some eggs to make an omelet right? Once we have more considerate drivers, it will also be beneficial to the...
5. Safety of pedestrians. In the US I realized that the pedestrian is king. It's a contrast to our roads where pedestrians aren't king, they're told to get out of the ***king way. Once a person steps on the pedestrian lane in the US and the Walk sign is green, cars have to stop and let him or her pass even if the person is still at the far end of the road.
Here in Manila I've seen cars keep going even if I'm directly in front, and if you know me, you know I'm not an easy guy to miss. They will only stop once they're inches from my legs; I wonder if the only thing that made them stop is the hassle of fixing a fender bender and possibly wiping off blood.
People, I know traffic's a bitch, and we have to inch forward every chance we get, but even when there are people in front? At one point, we're all pedestrians, too. A little consideration goes a long way.
The bottom line of all these observations is that it creates a motoring environment that's safe, efficient, and orderly. We all know what Metro Manila gridlock feels like, it's bad enough for some people to commit murder (although that doesn't justify the psychopatic tendencies of the Jason Ivlers in the world, not one bit).
From a logistical standpoint, it's not impossible to implement ideas and solutions that will improve the local motoring lifestyle immensely. From a political standpoint, well, it's election year, right? These changes can begin with us. As always, we can be the change we want to see in our world.