Every little bit helps or so it seems. With tons of daily traffic violations committed everyday in the Metro, both the public and the authorities have often said that the main cause is the lack of discipline. Simplistically, the authorities and so many others think that ill discipline can only be cured by Draconian enforcement of rules. The authorities then took a step further supposing that the ill discipline of our drivers are born from the wrong way they learned how to drive, which in turn is caused by poor driver's education. What to do? Impose a retake of the driving exam for all driver's license renewals, by 2018.
Mostly PUV drivers
To provide focus, the most heavily trafficked roads in the Metro happen to have the most recorded traffic violations. But take note that the vast majority of these violations are committed by public transport drivers who “load/unload” in the prohibited areas and zones. The “swerving”, “coding” and “obstruction/illegal parking/stopping” violations are just like choco-sprinkles on this bigger cake. Which makes one wonder about the commonly held premise that heavy traffic is caused by lousy drivers, by definition, drivers who do not know how to drive or do not know the Land Transportation code by heart or just refuse to follow it.
Passing the exams
As the lousy driving continues to this day, the same popular thought that believes that only better driver education and driver training can produce better on the road driving persists. This leads to the belief that most licensed drivers today got away by “buying” or “corrupting” some go-between to acquire a said driver's license, for a fee, without passing the practical and written driving exam. To ferret out generation upon generation of lousy drivers, it has been proposed that at some point in time, a license holder must retake the driving exam again in order to validate if 1. their driving skills are still up to par and 2. that their license was legitimately gained by legally passing both practical and written exam.
"Everyone drives worse than me"
Through all of my wheezing, breathing and listening years here, it has always been an accepted conclusion that too many drivers here do not know how to drive. The evidence cited is the visible and constantly accumulating traffic violations on MMDA's huliba.com website and horribly bad driving one sees all the time, all over the country's roads. Hence the popular and aged conclusion that in order to improve driving on our roads, our drivers have to be taught better. In order to enforce that they are taught better, they should actually pass the driving exam. Only better driver education and driver training can produce better on the road driving.
So far so good. Generally speaking, we never tire of government anti-corruption programs and anti-red tape measures like the repetitive memo's ejecting fixers from LTO offices. One gets the impression that such fixers have a habit of coming back into the LTO sphere for if they were ejected before, they must've found a way to come back to ply their trade if they need to be ejected again and again. Fact is, the availability of fixers signal a need that is being serviced. That need is to get a license with the least legal compliance of the requirements.
Seminar and exam
Take note though that over a span of time, many of us licensed drivers have had to retake the driving exam, with a convenient pre-exam seminar refresher course, as a penalty consequence of “reckless driving/speeding”. That is if we didn't succumb to the temptation of paying for a “waiver” to opt out of the seminar and exam.
Proper driving school
We are also of the belief that with the proliferation of proper Driving Schools – which we believe is good business considering the newness and number of their school cars and the extensive private driving courses they have – we must be producing better drivers than in my time when driving school was usually the family driver that taught us on some abandoned road or empty subdivision. In my day, the few driving schools extant required you to bring your own car and the few schools that had cars, for which the driving school charged highway robbery prices, were in such bad shape you needed a mechanic to come along.
If you look beyond the broad condemnation of drivers skills these days, it is plausible to believe that today's drivers should be better educated than us drivers who learned how to drive in the 1960's, give or take the trial and error mistakes we committed to get to our level of competence/incompetence today. I have had household staff take driving courses in the excellent but now defunct AAP Driving School and believe me, comparing like for like, i.e. driving aptitude immediately after “graduation” with myself as the “dummy”, I was shamed by their proficiency, finesse and accuracy. The popular A-1 Driving school not only has lots of current model air con school cars, but also has a couple of extensive driving courses. Honda's driving academy for both car and motorcycle owners has one of the best facilities in the Region.
Long form or pop quiz?
Now suppose that this licensing exam re-take is imposed as a pre-condition to license renewal by 2018? Unless LTO provides the exam and reviewer over the Internet, ready for on line examination or a printable form ready for submission, we may have to spend a few minutes more at the LTO licensing queue shading the right circles on the exam form. Or less, if the other proposal requiring random examination of applicants, using a much shorter list of questions, sort of like a pop quiz, is what LTO decides to apply.
Impractical practical exam
So how about the practical exam? Owing to the limited resources at all LTO offices, the retake of the practical exam may have to be either random or none at all. And here in lies the root of the problem of our traffic mess and our high accident rate for it is in the behavior behind the wheel that tells the examiner if the driver has not advanced since his student driver days or worse, has adopted driving habits that are dangerous and selfish. The defining exam has to be the practical one and yet, this is least emphasized. Having passed the written and without the practical exam, you now proceed to renew your license successfully. Done. Government happy. LTO applicant happy.
But will it improve overall driving on the street? We have a sneaking suspicion that most if not all bad drivers out there do, honestly and without third party intervention, pass both the written and practical exam. Which is all the more damning because many traffic violations are done by drivers who know what they are doing. The excuse? Opportunities just present itself to tempt the driver to gain a few minutes or spaces to get ahead, no matter how incremental that gain is. For the honest driver's license holders, the abuse of the privilege to drive, is a temptation that proves hard to resist despite the heavy fines and penalties. There are also a selection of psychiatrists favorite bogey men – one-upmanship, nothing-is-illegal when no one is looking, macho man above the law think, etc.
This calculated disregard of traffic rules happens everyday, specially when thick traffic causes high stress or becomes the blame/excuse for intentional violations of the law. It is this congestion caused high stress is what many drivers entertain thoughts of going counterflow. And if the irritation or agony persists, the driver now gets into “Beast” mode a prelude to road rage.
Visible traffic enforcement
On the other hand one also notices that many of the “stupid” or “bad” drivers suddenly become law abiding drivers the moment they enter zones with strict traffic policing. Witness how hugely improved drivers become once they enter speed radar infested sections of tollways and areas like Subic, Ayala Alabang, BGC etc. where the slightest infraction is ticketed right away. And as you can predict the moment they are out of say Subic naval base and into Olongapo city, these drivers return to their caveman style of driving. Many drive in other countries like the Gulf states and North America, and are quite alert to obeying the local laws, lest they lose their license.
Up the ante
So you see, the drivers are not ignorant of the law in the these cases. It's just that obeying the law becomes a matter of law enforcer visibility. Which enforces the authorities simplistic but correct observation that what since the Filipino driver lacks discipline, stiffer fines and blanketing the streets with CCTV's, drones and numerous traffic enforcers should do the trick.
Knowing but not following
Which brings us back to where we began. Enforcement is the key to address the Filipino driver's lack of discipline. Since traffic ill discipline is cured by behavior modification by high density of traffic enforcement measures, what is the point of re-educating and re-testing all drivers every time they renew their licenses? Most of them know the rules anyway. They just refuse to follow.