Wisdom > Spoiler

Why our traffic rules have no teeth

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re just going around in circles

Many of our traffic lights are either malfunctioning or off entirely. Our taxes paid for them. PHOTO BY MONTICELLO

Anyone who has driven in this country for at least a year should be able to conclude without a shadow of doubt that Philippine traffic rules are as lame as desperate (read: skin-baring) social-media “influencers” with all of 100 followers. Which is to say they’re a joke and nobody really takes them seriously.

I can cite several reasons as to why this is so.

For one, our law enforcement is spotty at best and nonexistent at worst. You have to wonder if the traffic marshals assigned to maintain order on the road really know what they’re doing. Gather five of them and ask them separately to explain a particular rule. I guarantee you they’ll give you three different answers. This has been the experience of drivers every single time they’re pulled over for a “violation.” Or maybe the officers know the rules but are simply not interested in correctly applying them. Maybe they know these rules so well they’ve mastered the art of manipulating them in order to earn on the side. Either way, you just lose respect for these guys after a while and start interpreting the law yourself. It’s how we all ended up driving like maniacs in the first place—bahala na si Batman.

Second, many (not all) government officials, politicians and cops don’t abide by the rules they want us to follow. They go against the flow of traffic; they make turns where they’re not supposed to; they beat the red light; they don’t have license plates…you name it. You can threaten people with hefty fines all you want, but you cannot make them fall in line as long as those in authority blatantly break the law themselves.

Third, we have confusing and conflicting rules from city to city. I can understand, say, two states in the US having slightly different motoring policies: They’re vast territories that often face unique cultural and economic challenges. Here, a 15-minute drive through neighboring districts will make you feel like you’re being teleported to an entirely different republic. We have one body (MMDA) tasked to manage Metro Manila, and still there are cities that insist on creating their own rules. Traffic management na lang, lalagyan pa ng pulitika. Then again, maybe that’s the problem: Maybe local governments don’t have an iota of faith in the agency’s competence. If that’s the case, then we’re all screwed.

I long to see the day when MMDA is so certain of a traffic rule—no matter how controversial—that no amount of protesting can make them walk it back

Last and worst, our traffic authorities keep vacillating when it comes to the rules they foist upon us. The “modified number-coding scheme” is the latest illustration of this. After weeks of stressing the motoring public over the ill-timed reinstatement of the rule—announcing it, putting it off, announcing it a second time—MMDA has once again decided to suspend it. I mean, it’s nice that they have, but this perpetual indecision tells everyone they’re not really sure about what they want to do. Remember the High-Occupancy Vehicle scheme two years ago? Yep, they also abandoned that idea after a near-unanimous outcry against it.

Sometimes it’s beginning to look like the agency hasn’t got a clue as to what it intends to achieve and how best to achieve it. Parang trial and error palagi. Kapag nagalit ang mga tao, atras. I long to see the day when MMDA is so certain of a rule—no matter how controversial—that no amount of protesting can make them walk it back. Usually, that kind of certainty comes from due diligence, thorough research, and common sense.

But now that motorists have proven time and time again that they can bully the agency into submission, who’s going to take the latter and its policies seriously?

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist since July 1995. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.