Killers on the Highway or Killer Highway?

Killers on the Highway or Killer Highway? image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted May 24, 2011 14:50

Is Commonwealth Avenue really a Killer Highway?

Another esteemed member of the Media is killed in a road accident on Commonwealth Avenue. We'd like to think that the MMDA is always concerned, always on its toes, always thinking of new ways to reduce accidents, be it homeless rugby boys, drugged or drunk drivers, nocturnal sprinting jay walkers in fashionable all black gets maimed or killed on Commonwealth Avenue or any other Metro Manila road. The initial Press Release is to blame 2 "racing" buses and the solution is to mount radar guns on motorcycles. The bus company was suspended for 30 days, a bit heavy handed considering the bus drivers involved in the accident have disappeared.

Is any one really watching?

Within a day, 70 arrests for speeding were recorded in a day, perhaps for the Network TV cameras and despite the MMDA's claim for non-contact arrests. Which begs the question? Didn't the MMDA make a big splash about monitoring the 60km/h speed limit on Commonwealth, first by getting the assistance of the NLEx anti-speeding team and then deploying laser guided Radar speed cameras on their own? Didn't MMDA release a long list of images of car plate numbers that were caught speeding on Commonwealth Avenue, the killer highway? Their next step is to deploy radar on motorcycles.

Knee jerk

First of all the hand held radar speed guns were not designed to be used on motorcycles. But I guess the MMDA knows that. For motorcycle or car mounted moving radar, the old fashioned VASCAR equipment that used to be deployed by the CHP [California Highway Patrol], would be appropriate.

Passe, for good reason

But many law enforcement agencies are already ditching VASCAR, in favor of LIDAR which is already used in both the NLEx and SCTEx, just like most Gulf states, European and Chinese highway traffic enforcers. Why? Because jurisprudence require rather complex and tedious rules of engagement when using VASCAR. The CHP procedure is to shadow a suspected speeding car for 3 miles at a stealth distance so the would be violator would not know he is under surveillance. If the subject car notices he is being followed by a prowl car and slows down to the legal limit within the 3 miles, he is not cited for the violation. The equipment is safeguarded from Police abuse which makes its evidence admissible in traffic court.

Now, do the homework

Now Commonwealth does not have vistas long enough for an MMDA mounted cop to shadow an errant motorist, be it car or bus. Besides, a comprehensive accident investigation should determine the impact speed of any major collision, whether or not it causes fatalities. A bus strictly cruising at 60km/h on Commonwealth but fails to brake in time or swerves instead of braking is not guilty of speeding. But the same bus that doesn't follow prescribed minimum following distances will have very little time and distance to brake if the driver has to avoid a pedestrian or vehicle. In the case of the taxi the esteemed media personage was riding, the bus may have hit the taxi at an impact speed of 40km/h and cause that much damage and death. We have doubts that the accidents on the killer highway is truly caused by speeding but rather, the failure to brake.

Is speeding really the cause?

Also, if the MMDA is truly monitoring speeds on the killer highway 24/7 with radar guns on side of the road, the median and the footbridges, Commonwealth Avenue is already adequately covered. Thus there will be no need for motorcycles chasing/tailing buses, which is very dangerous and can cause peripheral accidents in the ensuing pursuit. Shadowing and pursuit requires special training and poor hapless MMDA mounted traffic aides have a lot on their plate already. In fact, most Police forces today never engage in the spectacular hot pursuits that we see on late night TV documentaries because an accident that ensues from hot pursuit makes the Police criminally liable to the collateral property damage and fatalities the chase may lead to.

More road engineering

Nevertheless, Commonwealth Avenue has gained the notoriety of being called killer highway. There is still a lot that can be done. Though there are signs identifying the proper lane to use on this 10x10 lane road, the signs should be all uniform and consistent. If possible, the signs should be on gantries but Commonwealth is so wide that the gantry signs are going to be very expensive. Right now, the signs that lead to the U-turns are only visible to motorists on lane 01 and 02 but not to those occupying lanes farthest from the median. Signs that segregate traffic between those bound for at-grade Tandang Sora and the straight through flyover are confusing. Lighting is patchy. This is where overhead lateral cables with hung luminaires can be strung to illuminate the black spots that mast street lighting cannot cover.

Killers all!

Ultimately, the real culprit are the people themselves. Why do they prefer to risk their lives sprinting across 10 lanes of fast flowing traffic? Why do the bus drivers feel the need to swerve and cut each other up? Why do they have to accelerate hard, only to brake hard when they spot a lone passenger? Why do they have to even race, swerve and cut for one solitary fare? Even if the buses have speed limiters, which they do in all other countries, the kind of rude driving our drivers do will still cause accidents.

The poor road gets the blame

So before the MMDA risks its own motorcycle traffic aides to new and hard to enforce methods to tamp speeding, better spend more time really monitoring traffic from their CCTV network and spotters on the footbridges. If the accidents are properly investigated, almost all of the fatalities and injuries on the killer highway were caused by failure to brake, losing control through swerving and confusion on where to go. Not speeding. Its really bad driving, bad manners. Commonwealth Avenue is only a killer highway because of killer drivers. MMDA's thrust to reform bus drivers compensation from commission "boundary" system that breeds greed and ruthless driving to monthly wages is a step in the right direction.