Finally, someone has listened to the motorsports racers, car enthusiasts, tollway operators, motorists of the middle class and every driver who has been blocked by obstinate drivers hogging the left overtaking lane at 99km/h. Close to two months ago, the Arroyo clan has filed House Bill 1576 specifying severe monetary penalties and license suspension for those caught hogging the fast lane on any of the nation's 2x2 lane dual carriageway roads and expressways. It is high time that this dangerous practice is stopped as it contributes to "bunching" and slowing down of traffic, which makes drivers impatient and creative in overtaking.
Like all things, the devil will always be in the details. To date, TMC, the operators of the NLEx have been clearing the left lane of these lane hogs. With specialized training, this was carried out by silver Hi-Lux 3.0 liter pick ups, but today, yellow Strada pick ups with a big rear mount dot matrix variable message board bearing flashing arrows and large letters saying "KEEP RIGHT" have taken over.
Birth right, keep left
Still some drivers believe that mindlessly occupying the overtaking lane is a birthright. A minority may move over if you threaten to sit on their rear bumper or toast them with your high wattage HID lights, but the moment you overtake and presumably return to the right lane, the same lane hog resumes his [usually a he] birthright claim of the left lane at 99km/h .
We owe them a favor?
Some of these lane hogs believe that by blocking the left lane they are doing the nation a favor by keeping everyone else below 80km/h and expose the speeders who pass on the right. Well, even if some of these lane hogs sport PNP "to serve and protect" stickers, they are not trained nor authorized to "own" the left lane. Neither are they authorized to arrest speeding as to prove such requires a judicially fool-proof system of checks, balances and technical/photographic evidence that is GPS certified accurate like the LIDAR system of NLEx-SCTEx. Besides, internationally, the rule is the left lane is only for overtaking. So even if you are doing 220km/h on a derestricted empty 4x4 lane Autobahn, you are still required to return to the regular lane and keep that overtaking lane clear.
Policing the HB 1576 will require a posse of Patrol vehicles. In NLEx practice, the lead vehicle yellow Strada patrol approaches a lane hog and instructs it to leave the overtaking lane and return to the right. This constitutes the 1st warning. After the yellow Strada has passed, the buddy co-driver patrol man in the yellow Strada should monitor the rear view mirror if the errant vehicle returned to hog the left lane again. If it does, the yellow Strada can now slow down and wait for the errant vehicle, pull it over and confiscate the driver's license. All of this should be recorded by an on-board video camera to ensure that the patrol team cannot be accused of lying by the guilty driver. Alternatively, the yellow Strada patrol can radio a motorcycle or 2nd patrol unit far behind to come up behind on the errant vehicle and pull it over for issuance of a violation ticket and confiscation of driver's license as the LTO requires.
Not for the CCTV
The CCTV camera networks on most expressways should not be diverted to exclusively track left lane hogs, as the monitors of the CCTV system have to keep an eye out on untoward incidents. Tracking a left lane hogger on CCTV may require several surveillance zones to determine if the driver it is a violation of HB 1576 or not. At the most, the monitors can identify the lane hog so they can send a patrol vehicle to shadow, confirm the violation and then pull over to ticket.
Expand the coverage
We hope HB 1576's coverage extends beyond the measly 300kms of expressways we currently have. HB 1576 can expand to penalize driving below the 60km/h minimum speed limit on all national roads.
On the National Highway system, whether 2x2 or 1x1 lane single carriageway, overtaking becomes a necessary evil as overloaded trucks, kuligligs, decrepit vehicles, tricycles, pedicabs and just plain scared drivers afraid of the winds over 30km/h. Even on expressways we still find drivers who can't drive up to the minimum speed for whatever reason.
Get off the road
In the developed countries, vehicles that cannot attain minimum speed on the expressways are forced to exit the road. If the vehicle was disabled while within the tollway premises, such vehicles can only travel on the emergency shoulder, hazards flashing at presumably slower than the 60km/h limit. The rule is, if you can't drive the minimum speed limit, you have no right to be on the main carriageway as you will obstruct the smooth and steady flow of traffic.
Slowpokes induce dangers
The horrific head-on accidents on the 2-lane single carriageway Lipa to Batangas section of the STAR tollway is caused by poorly built jumbo jeeps with bad drivers that drive so slow that other vehicles are tempted to overtake them even on the double yellow no-overtaking zone. The same behavior can also be observed on the Sta. Inez-SCTEx section of the NLEx.
Speeders are a temporary nuisance
Though speed demons are a danger on the road, for as long as you get out of their way - like the Club 200 motor bike riders - they are gone in a split seconds and you can resume your normal life. Slowpokes on the other hand stay in front of you for hours and hours. Hours and hours that can snowball your irritation into impatience. Impatience that can lead to misjudgment.
No need for LIDAR
Unlike speeding, enforcing anti-lane hogs and anti-slow poke laws do not need sophisticated LIDAR camera radar. A traffic policeman, stationary on a stretch of road with good visibility can see if the errant driver refuses to yield the right of way to a faster vehicle. The overtaking vehicle will have its signal light blinking on the left. The errant vehicle, upon noticing there is a faster vehicle behind him should signal right and move over. If the errant driver refuses to yield right of way to the faster vehicle behind him, the errant driver is then in violation of the minimum speed limit and failing to yield to an overtaking vehicle. Towns hungry for ordinance income, in cooperation with the district PNP and some colorfully uniformed traffic aides can make a killing here. Compared to ASBU's [anti-smoke belching units] hassling vehicles and ruining the victim's diesel engines, causing traffic jams, catching slowpokes is more lucrative. And since they are slowpokes, giving chase to would be escapees should be easy.
Engineering is existing
Road engineers have tried their best to make roads fool proof. Like the SCTEx and the NLEx. A fool proof road narrows down the cause of accidents to the driver. Peruse the NLEx and SCTEx incident reports, and apart from alleged brake failure [euphemistically, the failure of the driver to brake in time] at between 4.32% and 3.03% respectively or blown tire at 5.95% and 6.06%, respectively, driver's error reaches a high of 58.92%, unsafe swerving at 2.16% and late braking at 11.35%. Driver's falling asleep [due to slow speeds] 3.24%. Others at 2.16%. Mechanical problems are 0.54%. All driver attributable errors total 88.21%.
Train them all and let God sort them out
Not all our roads are dangerous, but all our roads are made dangerous by the kind of driving we know. Re-educating drivers to drive better will take an eternity. We need a sea change in driver behavior and somehow, the quickest way is by draconian punitive laws as proposed by HB 1756 and the DOTC's requirement to retrain all public utility drivers at TESDA.