Since 1999, or 22 years ago, Congress legislated Republic Act (RA) No. 8750 or the Seat Belts Use Act; Republic Act No. 10586 or the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act; Republic Act No. 10666 or the Children’s Safety on Motorcycles Act; and Republic Act No. 11229 or the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act (mandatory use of car seats for children).
Over the same period, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has also overhauled the licensing system; required license applicants to secure certificates from privately operated driving schools; required emission tests for vehicles for registration; and, starting this year, require vehicles for registration to be inspected by privately owned motor vehicle inspection centers.
These laws and regulations have also allowed authorities — for over two decades — to impose higher fines and penalties on motorists who fail to follow them. It can be alleged that the same regulations have also become a source of corruption. However, I am not privy to this and do not have any evidence to support this claim.
All these regulations, of course, were intended to be proactive and preventive solutions to land transportation safety. They all aimed to make our roads safer for all users. Better safety was expected to also result in fewer accidents, and injuries and death, related to motor vehicle accidents.
From where I sit, however, it doesn’t seem like our roads have actually become safer in the last 20 years. One report indicates that the number of motor vehicle accidents in the country have actually doubled to 116,906 incidents in 2018 from 63,072 in 2007. An estimated 12,000 Filipinos die on the roads every year. I am uncertain if the number of deaths and injuries have gone down over the years.
I am not against these laws. In fact, I support them. However, I also believe they all require tweaking. It is in this line that I also support the calls of several senators for a suspension or moratorium on the implementation of new regulations in land transportation, to allow for their thorough review.
While safety is a major concern, the attempt to ensure safety should also be tempered with compassion. After all, we are still at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have lost their livelihood, and even more are having difficulty making ends meet. And among those severely affected is the transport sector.
It has now become terribly difficult for people to move from one place to the other. Public transportation remains scarce, and those allowed to resume operations are at limited capacity. Workers have resorted to bicycles and scooters just to get to work. Provincial buses, and many city buses and jeepneys as well as shuttles have all been gathering dust, still unable to ply their routes.
Those who own motorcycles and cars have been lucky. They still get to move around with some ease. And these same vehicle owners have managed to provide services to their countrymen by allowing themselves to be hired as private shuttles or car pools, particularly for workers.
People are very concerned about their health and safety, and taking public transportation — if at all it is available — is a major risk for commuters despite all the mandatory health protocols now in place. Public health officials are just as concerned as enclosed public transportation allows for greater transmission of viruses like COVID-19.
So, the least that LTO officials can do in the meantime is to give a break to motorists and commuters. At least while the pandemic rages on. Lack of transportation was among the biggest bottlenecks to reviving the economy in 2020, and possibly in 2021 as well. With new impositions on motorists, which ultimately impact commuters and the public, the LTO is unintentionally making things harder on everybody.
Perhaps when the pandemic ends, or when people have been vaccinated, and with more vehicles and people going out due to work and school, maybe then the government can insist on all its new land transport regulations, to ensure greater safety on our roads as people move about. Perhaps 2023 can be a target date.
But first review these regulations again. Like in the case of RA 8750 or the seatbelt law, why are seat belts required only for front seat passengers in Public Utility Vehicles? Why are buses and jeepneys, as well as tricycles, selectively exempt from the seatbelt requirement for all passengers?
As for Republic Act No. 11229 or the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act, if the intent of the law is to promote child safety in motor vehicles — regardless of type and ownership of vehicle — then all types of conveyances must be required to use child safety seats. Why are motorcycles and bicycles exempt? Child safety seats are actually available for two-wheel vehicles. Yet, only car owners with children must have them?
A “child” below 18 years old may board a motorcycle if he or she can comfortably reach his/her feet on the standard foot peg; his or her arms can reach around and grasp the waist of the motorcycle driver; and, he or she is wearing a government-approved helmet.
Based on these conditions, a child as young as 10 years old, with a height of about four feet, can already back-ride on his dad’s motorcycle with only a helmet as a safety requirement. That same child, however, is deemed by law as unsafe inside a car with standard seat belts unless he or she is in a government-approved child car seat.
Better yet, based on existing laws, a child as young as 10 years old, with a height of about four feet, can legally back-ride on his dad’s bicycle on public roads without any safety gear — not even a helmet. His father need not be licensed, either. And, they are not compelled to use the bicycle lane. In short, this father-son biking tandem is deemed beyond the scope of the law, and thus, arguably, perhaps “safer” than any child on a motorcycle or a car. Otherwise, why aren’t they regulated?
Moreover, the implication is that as presently configured, or without government-approved safety seats for children, motor vehicles are generally unsafe for children 12 years and below. Why then do we sell them to families? Also, the legal requirement for child safety restraints should cover all child passengers in both private and public vehicles. Type of ownership and use should not be determinants.
In this line, will child safety restraints also be required of for-hire vans, jeepneys, taxis, Grab Cars, and public buses? Or, will passengers be required to bring their own? If the intent of this law is to ensure child safety in motor vehicles, then it should not single out privately owned vehicles. No motor vehicles, including motorcycles and tricycles and PUVs (public utility vehicles), should be exempt from the requirement. The requirement should be imposed on all, and at the same time.
In the case of car rentals, will they also be required to supply child safety seats to customers with children 12 years and below? How about hotel cars, airport cars and taxis, and commercial vehicles like small delivery vans of small private businesses? Can they allow children to ride without the appropriate child safety seat?
Incidentally, there are thousands of bicycles and electric bikes and electric scooters now on our streets — used for delivery, for going to work, for making short trips from home — and all these are unlicensed and mostly unregulated. Driving school certificate, license and registration, and safety gear not required. And their “vehicles” don’t need to pass government “inspection.”
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council