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Solving the uso-uso problem: The perils on Davao City’s highways

Monday, 04 October 2010 08:00
by Lovely A. Carillo

Development along with the increasing vehicle population has made inevitable the construction of well-paved four-lane highways in Davao City, making its modern road network among the best in Mindanao. But due to a mismatch in the three factors determining the city’s traffic efficiency, the main highways have become the devil’s lair where deadly accidents occur now and then.
“There are three E’s that determine traffic efficiency, namely, Education, Enforcement and Engineering,” deputy director for operations of the Davao region police office, Sr. Superintendent Jose Jorge Corpuz said Thursday. The occasion was  the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police (AFP-PNP) Press Corps briefing held in the conference room of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO). Prior to his Davao assignment, Corpuz worked as Highway Patrol regional chief in Central Luzon, and the Cordillera region.
The conference, which was a gathering of all heads of agencies that have direct and indirect involvement in the city’s transportation sector, except the Land Transportation Office (which did not send a representative), tried to shed light on what the real problem is behind the increasing number of traffic accidents in Davao City. It came a day after Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte addressed a public hearing attended by about a thousand public utility vehicle drivers and operators.
“Effective Thursday morning, September 30, all vehicles are ordered to follow the 30- kilometer-per hour (KPH) speed limit in the city’s streets,” Traffic Management Center (TMC) officer-in-charge retired Col. Desiderio Cloribel announced. The order was actually nothing new but simply a reiteration of Republic Act 4136 enacted on June 20, 1964 in which Chapter 4, Article 1 and Section 35 provides for a 30-kilometer-per hour speed limit for motor vehicles and motorcycles traversing “city and municipal streets, with light traffic, when not designated as “through streets”.
The hullabaloo over the speed limit came as a result of an accident a week ago that killed ten people. The fatal accident along Matina Highway involved a so-called uso-uso public utility jeepney which collided head-on with a 10-wheeler truck.
Uso-uso is the slang term meaning “in fashion” and used to describe a locally  assembled jeepney whose original engine has been changed with a larger, more powerful one normally found in larger vehicles to make them go faster plus a loud sound system whose sole purpose is to call attention to the vehicle’s presence on the highway. It is usually driven by a relatively young (choy-choy), reckless speed maniac who thinks he owns the road and you better get out of his way, or else. That’s more or less what was in the mind of Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board 11 administrative officer Edgar Violan when asked to define an uso-uso jeepney.
The operation of uso-usos got the ire of Duterte when he was still mayor last year after one of them figured in an accident in Los Amigos, Tugbok district which killed several people. Violan said the city government conducted several meetings and seminars for public utility drivers after the accident. Last week’s horrible accident involving another uso-uso caused Duterte to blow his top and pressure concerned government agencies to crack down once and for all on traffic violators.
“Unfortunately, there is no law prohibiting the attachment of large engines to small units like the uso-uso,” Violan said. Apparently there is no law prohibiting the substitution of smaller engines with bigger, more powerful ones, as long as the jeepney (now an uso-uso) is registered anew along with its new engine’s serial number. It goes without saying that it is illegal to tamper with an engine’s serial number.
Testing the speed limits
One of the solutions identified by the city government is the imposition of the 30-kph speed limit along the city streets. The only drawback to this is the inability of traffic enforcers to monitor the speed of these vehicles for lack of equipment designed to do just that.
This was admitted by Cloribel, who said the enforcers are waiting for the City Council to enact an ordinance that will address the city’s traffic problems and perhaps allocate funding for the speed test equipment.
He said the city is eyeing the procurement of speed guns which can measure the speed of vehicles and motorcycles.
The effect of vehicle speed on the safety of motorists is not an isolated issue, as the whole world is concerned about providing safer roads for pedestrians and motorists. In London, authorities are about to implement the Intelligent Speed Adaptation System which makes use of a digital road map and satellite tracking device which helps the motorist detect the specific speed limit of a certain locality. The system can be adjusted to function automatically to control speed, or merely on an advisory mode.
Road safety campaign
One of the immediate solutions seen by the local government is the conduct of a road safety seminar at the SP Building which started last Friday. Violan said this is the first road safety seminar conducted through the initiative of the local government.
The first batch of participants are the uso-uso drivers who are members of the Toril Drivers Association with 34 units (PUJs) but with a total of 83 drivers. The group will be divided into 40 participants per seminar.
“The seminar will be conducted every Friday from hereon until all the targeted public utility drivers have undergone it,” Violan said. The seminar module, which was prepared by the TMC, LTFRB, LTO and the DCPO, includes topics on the traffic situation in Davao City, LTO rules and regulations, traffic techniques and basic traffic rules.
Violan said there are 18,384 registered public utility vehicles in the city, including  6,202 PUJs, 4,000 taxis, 398 school buses, 156 tourist vans and buses, among others.
The city is expected to spend millions for the safety seminars, granting that each participant will incur a minimum of P300 for the two identification cards (to be displayed on the jeepneys), snacks and lunch.
Corpuz cited the lack of education and discipline among drivers who do not even know and observe the Right of Way rules. After all, had the drivers been properly educated before they got their licenses, there would be no need for the city to spend this much for drivers’ training.
In accident reports, Violan said, the investigating officer will usually consider three factors, including human, machine and environment. “Kung sa engine placement pa lang din a balance, eh di may engineering problem na tapos dagdagan pa kung kaskasero ang driver,” he added.
In the end, keeping the motorists safe on the road will depend on how educated the drivers are and how strict the enforcers are when implementing traffic rules, seatbelts laws and traffic laws.
Drivers’ education requires strict implementation on LTO’s part when it comes to the issuance of drivers licenses. But with the LTO hounded by various issues on laxity in issuing licenses, existence of fixers and the like, total road safety, even in Davao, remains far from reality.