THE DEATH of a loved one on the road could alter and overturn your life overnight. And forever.
This was what happened on that evening of May 13, 2011 when two buses racing with each other to get passengers on Commonwealth Avenue toward Philcoa caused the death of my wife Chit, with one bus crushing the entire rear passenger seat of a Toyota Vios taxi like an accordion. I therefore speak not just as an ordinary citizen more than a year after, but as one who has lost a loved one overnight.
Chit was a very active road user all her life—as a student, as a beat reporter, as an editor of three national dailies and as a beloved professor of the University of the Philippines.
The world now commemorates Nov. 18, or the third Sunday of November, every year as the “World Day of Remembrance for World Traffic Victims.” The United Nations General Assembly, noting that road crashes are now one of the top causes of deaths in the world, has launched this date as part of a worldwide campaign to reduce road casualties.
This day is dedicated to the victims of road crashes (deaths and injuries). It is a day to educate road users toward curtailing the number of deaths and injuries on the road.
No less than the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that road crashes are now one of the top causes of deaths and injuries. The WHO described road deaths and injuries as “a major public health problem with a broad range of social and economic consequences which, if unaddressed, may affect the sustainable development of countries and hinder progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.”
On the other hand, the World Bank, in a study, alarmingly indicates that “currently, 1.3 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year and these deaths and injuries incur an economic cost of $100 billion annually.”
The Philippines is ranked as among the top five countries in terms of road deaths and injuries with an average of 34 fatal road crashes daily. The highest concentration of road crashes in the Philippines is in Quezon City, according to official statistics of the Philippine National Police and the Metro Manila Development Authority.
I am happy that the Quezon City government has decided to put up a marker for road safety consciousness in memory of Chit and other victims near the site of the fatal road crash near the entrance of the UP-Ayala Techno Hub on Commonwealth Avenue.
Ironically, two days before Chit’s death on the road, the United Nations declared the Decade for Road Safety every May 11 of every year for the next 10 years, with the target of reducing casualties on the road by half.
As I stated during my address before the National Summit on Road Safety last Feb. 22 attended by more than 400 participants from government agencies, motorcycle and bicycle clubs, runners organizations and road stakeholders, we are all road users—motorists, commuters and pedestrians—so this should be a concern for everyone.
On March 15, at a meeting at the conference room of the Safety Organization of the Philippines, we organized Families of Road Victims and Survivors (FRVS). Our aim is to make road safety a right. FRVS seeks to represent the interests of the bereaved and injured road crash victims, advocate for their rights and for a more fitting and serious response by the government and the general public to road death and injury.
We need an improved attitude and awareness for road safety. We need improved enforcement of traffic rules and influence institutions and authorities to implement and enforce road safety measures more effectively. FRVS does not believe that we really need more traffic rules to add to the multitude of road regulations that already exist on paper. What we need is a very effective and no-nonsense implementation of these.
Implementing road rules
I do not believe that Filipinos do not know how to follow traffic rules and regulations. I have observed Filipinos living or working in other countries who have inculcated the culture of safety there.
There, public officials, lawmakers and law enforcers lead by example and show ordinary citizens that they know how to respect traffic laws. Law enforcers there implement road rules in a no-nonsense manner, without fear or favor and do not exempt VIPs including politicians or wealthy citizens from being ticketed or even arrested if they violate traffic rules.
You may have noticed that I never used the word “road accident.” There is no such thing as a road accident, because these could have been avoided if we followed the speed limits, if we had checked our brakes before driving, if we did not drink a lot of alcohol before driving, etc.
If there is a cause that could have prevented death or injury, then it is never an accident. An ounce of prevention, they say, is worth a pound of cure.
For those of us who have lost a loved one on the road, this national campaign is to ensure that not a single life is lost on the road in vain. This advocacy should serve as a deterrent and contribute to the reduction of deaths and injuries in road crashes.
The memory of our loved ones will be perpetuated if one will have reaped and learned its lessons from our road tragedies. Road safety awareness can save lives on our roads.
This could save the life of your loved ones, or of your friends. Or who knows, the life you save could be your own.
The author, a UP professor, is founder and lead convenor of Families of Road Victims and Survivors (FRVS), which is both a support group and advocacy group for road safety. FRVS can be contacted through Facebook.