POSTSCRIPT / November 20, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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'Black spots' on EDSA have claimed 15 lives so far

ANOTHER MISHAP: Sorry if I have to revisit, on a Sunday at that, this black spot on EDSA that Metro Manila authorities stubbornly refuse to recognize as an accident-prone area crying for immediate remedial action.

The other night, I again came upon ANOTHER mishap on the very spot on EDSA near the MRT terminal on North Avenue in Quezon City where I and several other motorists have met with accidents on different occasions.

This time, a northbound white Honda Civic (WJZ 603) and a big truck (UPU 422) making a U-turn at that accident-prone spot hit each other. Previous to this last one, I also witnessed two other accidents in the same place.

Since June 11, when I crashed into one of those carelessly placed concrete slabs at that spot, there had been four other accidents in the same area, according to a Metro Manila traffic officer at the scene.

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HIGH PRIDE: With that road hazard so glaring, I sense that it is just high pride that stops MMDA officials from doing something about this and other black spots dotting the roadmap of the nation’s capital.

My guess is that they do not want to admit, by acting on it, that they missed that one. Or that it took somebody else to point it out to them.

Their failure cannot be for lack of funds, because they seem to have lots of money for frivolous items. Nor is it lack of competent personnel since they have the funds to hire the best there are.

Maybe the only thing that could make them move is for a convoy bearing President Gloria Arroyo to get snagged at that same spot, or for a scion of a prominent family, or a popular movie star or maybe a senator to get killed there.

If it is just us plain folk getting hurt or killed, it must be all right to the gods of MMDA.

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BLACK SPOT: To shift from the anecdotal and subjective, let us look at statistics culled from the road safety conference sponsored last Nov. 10 in Makati by the Automobile Association of the Philippines in partnership with the UP-National Center for Transportation Studies and the Toyota Motor Philippines Corp.

Although statistics are cold numbers, we use them to give a measurement, or at least a tangible description, of these road hazards — especially those on EDSA, the main circumferential artery cutting through the heart of the metropolis.

“Black spot” is a term universally used in motoring and road safety circles to refer to a place on the road that, to quote Dr. Ricardo G. Sigua of the UP College of Engineering, “show a higher density of fatalities and severe injuries than others within a region.”

“Black spot” is a short definition for an extremely dangerous spot or section of the road. Needless to say, these hazardous sites need immediate attention, he said. Otherwise we will not bother with them.

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FREQUENCY: When is a road section said to be showing a “higher density of fatalities and severe injuries” to be designated as a “black spot”?

While there is universal concern, there is no common definition of a black spot.

In Australia, Sigua said, the minimum eligibility criterion is a history of at least three casualty crashes over a five-year period. (Three in five years? My favorite EDSA spot more than qualifies!)

In the United Kingdom, if four or more accidents occurred on a certain location in a single year, it is declared a black spot. But in a county outside London, a place may be designated a black spot even if only five injury accidents are recorded in three years.

In many developing countries, he said, a city may define a black spot as having more than 10 injury accidents in a year.

It seems that the designation of black spots is relative to the local conditions. In places where the authorities hardly care or take their jobs seriously, the entire road network will never be marred by one black spot!

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MMARAS INFO: How does our EDSA — which I regard as one of the world’s most hazardous roads in any state capital — fare against some of the more commonly held definitions of black spots? We give you statistics and you decide.

In the same road safety conference, to which I was invited by AAP Vice President Johnny Angeles to deliver the keynote speech, monitoring reports were given out by the Metro Manila Accident Reporting and Analysis System.

According to MMARAS data, there were 4,676 road accidents — with 15 persons killed — from January to August this year in the six cities where EDSA passes. These are Caloocan, Quezon City, San Juan, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay.

But the number of accidents reported could be much smaller than the actual figures since verification has shown that many accidents remain unreported for various reasons.

In some cases, victims are checked into hospitals and duly recorded as injured but may have died later from their injuries without their death being related to the accident.

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FATALITIES: The 4,676 total divided by the eight months in the period studied gives an average of 584 accidents a month, or 19.25 a day, or 1.5 accidents every two hours. Remember, these are cases on EDSA alone.

Whatever may be the significance, the months with the most number of accidents are January (615 accidents, versus the 584 monthly average), May (611) and August (623).

The 15 deaths in the EDSA accidents reported from January to August this year were distributed as follow: 11 in Quezon City, two in Pasay and one each in Mandaluyong and Makati. A longer portion of EDSA and its notorious U-turns are in Quezon City.

For comparison: The national fatality figure is around 9,000 killed in road accidents last year. As for the total global figure, around two lives are lost in road accidents every minute in the world.

It may be coincidence, but the improvised U-turns inserted into EDSA by the MMDA are located in Quezon City . By “improvised,” I mean they were not in the original design of that multi-lane fast-moving thoroughfare.

It would be interesting to know how many of the accidents recorded on EDSA occurred at those U-turns.

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LUCKY DRIVERS: The figures seemed to validate our layman’s belief that the driver, who has a front-seat preview of what is about to happen, usually comes out alive even when some of his passengers or somebody on the road gets killed.

Of the 15 persons killed in EDSA accidents, only two were the drivers. Five were passengers, while a bigger number (nine!) were pedestrians. But when it came to injuries, there were more passengers hurt than pedestrians.

I wonder if the higher figure for pedestrian deaths can be attributed to the alleged policy obeyed by many bus drivers to make sure that a pedestrian they had bumped or run over is killed rather than left merely injured or maimed and requiring costly treatment and hospitalization.

The higher fatalities for pedestrians could be attributed to the fact that persons waiting at the roadside without protective structures (such as railings) and safety rules (such as speed limits) are exposed to recklessly driven vehicles.

As for passengers, while they may be tossed around inside the vehicle, many of them often come out merely injured or shaken.

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RE-ENGINEERING: I reiterate that I am not against U-turns per se, even if there are no such road aberrations in many well-ordered cities in civilized countries. They have loops, but not U-turns.

But I submit that their haphazard insertions into well-designed thoroughfares (such as EDSA) as a result of the closing of many vital intersections must be reviewed.

Our thoroughfares are designed for efficient driving without having to weave in and out of the lanes. Yet the U-turns force drivers to engage in endless swerving as if they were running a slalom race. The stress alone could kill the less hardy species of drivers.

In places where the U-turns are deemed really necessary, the entire section (not just the U-turn) and the approaches must be re-engineered.

There should be additional lighting since the U-turns pose additional hazards. Early warning signs and devices must be installed, because motorists are educated to follow their lanes. To require them to suddenly swerve now and then is to ask for something unsafe and unreasonable.

The fact alone that accidents keep recurring at certain black spots means that there is something wrong with the road engineering. Accidents in those places are not always attributable to the driver, because drivers are everywhere but black spots are not.

High pride will not save lives. Sige na po, ayusin na natin.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 20, 2005)

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