The United Nations Global Road Safety Week happens once every two years since 2007. Now on its 6th commemoration, this year’s theme is centered on speeding entitled, “Streets for Life” which targets urban areas to have low speed streets where pedestrians including non-motorized vehicle users interact with motorized vehicles. Low speed streets would require vehicles to have a maximum speed of 30 kilometers per hour.
Moreover, the speed solution to prevent road crashes links to the attainment of several targets in the Sustainable Development Goals such as in health, education, infrastructure, sustainable cities, climate action and partnerships.
#Love30 (#Love20 for countries using the imperial system of measurement) trended over social media the past week as the celebration came by from 17th to 23rd. On a very wide and diverse Filipino context, when you talk to certain groups about speeding and sharing the roads, you will get good smiles from some and handful of smirks.
Speed limits are either established by law or by local legislations in the Philippines. As simple as it may sound, private groups have appealed several measures to ensure road safety but barely a spoonful of proposals made its way to get our lawmakers’ nods. This include the highly controversial child seats which, for me, is a first world solution which needed further study on its flexibility considering the modes of transportation that we have. The anti-distracted driving act provided promising measures and was quite doable on a personal level. However, it failed because erring individuals were more concerned of getting caught using their phones than keeping their eyes on the road. A very low number of enforcers keep the window big for violations and in unfortunate moments, road crashes.
As an engineer with several technical trainings, I learned that road crashes can happen anytime. Although preventable, the human factor could never be controlled. Our behaviors and habits like drinking alcoholic beverage, distracted driving and other contributing factors may lead us into a crash. The solution for this range from the safest which keep the driver alert such as rumble strips, to the most forgiving such as guardrails which prevent a vehicle that is out of control from falling, say for example, into a ravine.
How did 30 kilometers per hour become a potential solution to curbing road crash fatalities? The World Health Organization (WHO), through a study of Pasanen in 1991, have found that speed is highly contributory to the probability of death in a road crash. In fact, more than 60 kilometers per hour of speed almost guarantees the death of a pedestrian if hit by a car. Hitting at 80, the pedestrian is surely dead. The WHO also notes that a 30 kilometer per hour impact speed in a collision has a 90 percent survival rate on the part of the pedestrian.
The question is if it is really doable in the Philippines. I am used to riding jeepneys, taxis and even private vehicles which sometimes hit an 80 in Iloilo City especially on Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Avenue and Luna Street. There are sometimes people who run to cross these extremely wide streets like the former. We cannot simply deny the fact that despite the best looking roads and infrastructure at par from other developing cities, we designed it for cars and trucks. We have to be highly inclusive.
It is a big challenge for our community and a big challenge for the Philippines in general.
This is a challenge for our lawmakers in the local level as well as the national level to put into heart “Streets for Life”. We have been well-funded over the past five years in infrastructure and what we really lack is the policy direction to make use of our roads in a more efficient and safe manner. Wider roads need to be reallocated for shared use to encourage safe active transport. More trees should also be planted to provide shade in our bike lanes which are almost useless at midday. Speed on streets with painted bike lanes as well as school zones should be designated as low speed streets where speeds of motorized vehicles are maxed at 30 kilometers per hour. A simple ordinance for this is preferred but some good enforcement support mechanisms such as well-educated and uncorrupted enforcers are vital for the success of its implementation.
This is also a challenge for road users. Share the road! Nobody owns it but all of us. The only priority use of roads lies with emergency response. For general use, we all share it. No cyclist or pickup truck driver has the right to shout for their priority. No power tripping should foster. If we cannot do it this way, then we most certainly have a long way to go.