Text: Paul Cornelius Castillo / Photos: Brent Co | posted August 04, 2015 10:48
Legal expert checks whether swerving is really illegal under Philippine law
Hearing the phrase "swerving po" or any of its permutations, when apprehended by officers on the road, should already be a thing of the past. It unfortunately still happens, however, despite the information campaign of various agencies (e.g. MMDA) to the contrary. Alas, the Court has spoken.
In the recent case of "Sydeco v. People" (G.R. No. 202692, 12 November 2014), the Supreme Court emphasized that swerving per se is not a crime or an offense on the road. In fact, using "CTRL +F" on our Land Transportation and Traffic Code will not yield the word swerving. According to the Court, swerving is ordinarily understood as movement where a vehicle "shifts from a lane to another or to turn aside from a direct course of action".
It’s like lining up in a fast food joint when, suddenly, a new counter opens. People in line then "swerve" to the lane of that counter. Needless to state, this illustration did not come from the Court.
The Court explains that swerving may become punishable when (i) there is a sign prohibiting swerving (in which case the offense will be disregarding traffic rules or signs) or (ii) where the act of swerving amounts to reckless driving:
"Swerving," as ordinarily understood, refers to a movement wherein a vehicle shifts from a lane to another or to turn aside from a direct course of action or movement. The act may become punishable when there is a sign indicating that swerving is prohibited or where swerving partakes the nature of reckless driving, a concept defined under RA 4136, as:
SECTION 48. Reckless Driving. – No person shall operate a motor vehicle on any highway recklessly or without reasonable caution considering the width, traffic, grades, crossing, curvatures, visibility and other conditions of the highway and the conditions of the atmosphere and weather, or so as to endanger the property or the safety or rights of any person or so as to cause excessive or unreasonable damage to the highway.
"Swerving is not necessarily indicative of imprudent behavior let alone constitutive of reckless driving."
In several instances, the Supreme Court has explained that reckless driving involves a conscious choice of a course of action, which injures or could injure another. It is when one operates a motor vehicle in a manner that poses serious danger to others, or with willful disregard of the consequences. Reckless driving is an offense that is dictated in large part by the surrounding circumstances.
Sydeco was apprehended while on the road at 3 in the morning, a time of the day that the Court described as one "when the streets are usually clear of moving vehicles and human traffic, and the danger to life, limb and property to third persons is minimal." With this factual backdrop, his act of swerving cannot be tantamount to reckless driving.
Swiftly moving your vehicle across all lanes of the road during rush hour, and without warning to others, may conversely be considered as reckless. You are courting road rage and applicable penalties under the law. Arguably, even nature’s call must be subservient to rules against reckless driving. Dura lex sed lex – the law is harsh but that is the law.
The Supreme Court’s pronouncement should clarify and put to rest the issue of apprehensions for swerving per se, as you cannot possibly be penalized for a non-existent violation. All courts, tribunals, and administrative bodies must conform to the pronouncements of the Supreme Court, as it is the final word on what the law is. Indeed, decisions of the Court form part of the law of the land.
Swerve carefully if you must or want, but always in obedience to traffic signs, symbols, and road markings. More importantly, never drive recklessly. Give due regard to the lives and properties of those that surround you- other road users and your loved ones waiting for you to get home.