Yesterday, ABS-CBNnews.com reported that more than 1,000 motorcycle riders staged a protest motorcade over their concerns on the implementation of MMDA Motorcycle Lanes, or “Blue Lanes,” on EDSA, Commonwealth Avenue, Macapagal Avenue, and other main thoroughfares. (Aside: I wasn’t able to go. Pity. I would have wanted to be part of this expression of advocacy.)
Even with estimates of nearly 8 million motorcycle riders in the country, it appears that riders have been subject to quite a bit of marginalization, in terms of how they are being treated by government, whether by agencies like the MMDA or by local government units. Not that the sector is completely blameless — admittedly there are those annoying riders who weave through traffic without regard to the four-wheelers’ position on the road, those who wear their helmets on their elbows, or use completely unsafe construction hardhats in lieu of helmets. Over the fence, however, is an ugly, consistent presumption of some law enforcement officers that riders who wear balaclavas and full-face helmets and their passengers that they just might be criminals.
If anything, dialogue between the local motorcycle riding sector and government should be able to solve quite a bit of these issues. Since it appears that the sector is willing to express its grievances in the proper fora and in a civilized manner, shouldn’t government be willing to listen and work with riders towards the common good?
On MMDA Motorcycle Lanes
In theory, motorcycle lanes benefit the public, not just riders. Smooth traffic flow and safe passage through thoroughfares are pretty much assured by proper implementation of motorcycle lanes — ideally, that is.
In Philippine practice it is not so, and even more starkly with the way it is implemented on EDSA. Consider: the Blue Lanes are not for the exclusive use of motorcycles, and as such other vehicles can use them as well. Alarming is that public utility buses typically refuse to use the lanes designated for them (an enforcement issue on the part of the MMDA, quite clearly) and use the Blue Lanes — their large blind spots wherein bus drivers cannot know if motorcycles are behind them can very well contribute to accident-prone situations. Even more alarming is that large trucks with similar large blind spots use the motorcycle lanes, especially at night when the truck bans are lifted and when there is practically no traffic law enforcement going on.
As it is going to be unfair, of course, for the blue lanes to be dedicated solely to motorcycles (EDSA is already too narrow, considering estimates of about 2.4 million vehicles using it daily), a short- to medium-term solution that could be best for all concerned would be:
- Blue lanes are to be designated primarily for motorcycles;
- Blue lanes may be used by Class 1 private vehicles and taxicabs, if the leftmost lane has high traffic volume;
- Blue lane use by Class 1 private vehicles and taxicabs may be sanctioned if such use is when the leftmost lane is not occupied by traffic or is occupied by light traffic only;
- Blue lanes may NOT be used by Class 2 vehicles and above;
- Strict enforcement that blue lanes may NOT be used by Class 1 public utility jeepneys;
- Strict enforcement that public utility buses be restricted to their designated bus lanes; and,
- Strict enforcement that Class 2 and above vehicles (i.e., cargo trucks) are to be restricted to the rightmost lane adjacent to bus lanes or their duly designated lanes.
To put it simply: non-selective, no favoritism, consistent traffic law enforcement that does not end before dinner and is missing until breakfast. (Tweet Yves Gonzales of the MMDA Traffic Discipline Office — @doblezeta on Twitter — and urge him to fix this.)
It’s the apparently spotty enforcement by the MMDA that is messing up the implementation of blue lane use by motorcycles, which could be mitigated if enforcement were consistent; long-term solutions would involve a restructuring of Philippine metropolitan road network use, reduction of vehicle volume, driver and rider education, and so forth — we won’t discuss those issues for the moment. (It will be interesting to learn if the Department of Transportation and Communications is doing any studies and planning about such things; tweet DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas — @MARoxas on Twitter – and bug him about it.)
On LGUs Banning Motorcycle “Open Pipes”
I will admit to bias on this issue; in the same manner that I detest barangay-disturbing middle-of-the-night drunken videoke sessions do I dislike the sound of an underbone with an open pipe revving through my neighborhood. (The loudest any of the motorcycles I’ve ridden could have gotten would be about the sound of a quiet, well-tuned Mitsubishi Galant — it’s a personal prefererence.)
On the other hand, the law does provide some guidance on the matter: the pertinent law is PD 1121, or the Philippine Environment Code. The National Environmental Protection Council, now attached to the DENR, is supposed to enforce these provisions related to vehicular noise pollution:
Section 5. Community Noise Standards. Appropriate standards for community noise levels shall be established considering, among others, location, zoning and land use classification
Section 6. Standards for Noise-Producing Equipment. There shall be established a standard for noise-producing equipment such as construction equipment, transportation equipment, stationary engines, and electrical or electronic equipment and such similar equipment or contrivances. The standard shall set a limit on the acceptable level of noise emitted from a given equipment for the protection of public health and welfare, considering among others, the magnitude and condition of use, the degree of noise reduction achievable through the application of best available technology and the cost of compliance.
The installation of any noise-producing equipment shall conform with the requirements of Presidential Decree No. 1096 and other applicable laws as well as their implementing rules and regulations.
Section 8. Air Quality and Noise Standards. National Pollution Control Commission in coordination with appropriate government agencies shall be responsible for the enforcement of ambient air quality emission and noise standards, including the monitoring and surveillance of air pollutants, licensing and permitting of air pollution control facilities, and the promulgation of appropriate rules and regulations.
Existing air quality emission and noise standards may be revised and/or modified consistent with new development and technology.
The issue, really, is not that LGUs cannot pass ordinances banning loud motorcycles and such — the issue is whether or not LGUs have the technical capability to set and enforce standards. A vague statement on an LGU’s ordinance worded like “loud motorcycles and motorcycles with open pipes are prohibited” smacks of laziness and ineptitude on the part of the local council; better would be “no motorcycle whose emitted sound pressure level measured by a calibrated sound pressure measurement instrument at a distance of 1 meter exceeds 100 decibels at an engine revolution speed of 1,000 RPM is allowed.” With such specific standards and the correct measurement instruments, enforcement would be less subjective — and would reduce the temptation for petty bribery and corruption.
To have faith that LGU officials and officials of regulatory agencies have sufficient intelligence to write such standards competently is a matter for the public to decide, of course.
On Helmets, Part 1
The law is clear: since March 23, 2010 all motorcycle riders and their pillion riders (the correct term for the colloquial “backride”) are required to wear helmets that conform to safety standards. Read the full text of Republic Act No. 10054 – Motorcycle Helmet Act, and read Section 3. From the phrasing, it is clear that any rider who wears his helmet on his elbow or goes bare-headed is to be penalized.
However, there is an annoying issue with this helmet law, which should have been resolved by the issuance of the law’s complete implementing rules and regulations. While the Bureau of Product Standards of the DTI has already implemented the law by adopting the United Nations Economic Commission on Europe (UN ECE) standard specifications as a Philippine National Standard (PNS/UN ECE 22:2007), other agencies (such as the LTO, the MMDA, the PNP, and so on) have yet to implement the penalizing of riding with substandard helmets.
This is why those beanie helmets good only for gated community moped riding are commonplace, even if PNS/UN ECE 22:2007 testing will show that they provide practically no protection to riders. Heck, just last night a fellow was racing his dirtbike through EDSA with a plastic construction hard hat on; if the MMDA officers near Guadalupe knew their jobs, they should have flagged him down for violating RA 10054.
The solution is pretty simple, it seems: get the BPS to educate the MMDA, the PNP, the LTO, and the general public on what is an acceptable motorcycle helmet, and what kind of helmet will get a rider a ticket for “riding with substandard helmet,” the standards set by PNS-UN ECE Reg 22-2007, and for the motorcycle riding sector to help policymakers strike the balance between ATGATT (“all the gear, all the time” — referring to a motorcycle safety principle) and the purchasing power of the average Filipino motorcycle rider.
On Helmets, Part 2
A few years ago, some rather misguided individuals kept on harping about the dangers of motorcycle riders wearing helmets. The premise was that since helmets conceal the faces of motorcycle riders, motorcycle helmets facilitate the commission of crimes. Their proposals ranged from the outright banning the use of motorcycle helmets, the banning of full-face motorcycle helmets or helmets with tinted visors and shields, the banning of wearing balaclavas under full-, half, or open-face helmets, and so on. From time to time, such proposals get mentioned in the news after some crime or other is mentioned.
Fortunately, some of those proposals are already openly illegal under RA 10054. Unfortunately, some are not — and we will mention a few:
- Requiring plate number stickers to be attached to helmets: what proponents of these methods do not understand (probably because of their limited understanding of materials science) is that standard safety helmets come with warnings that stickers should not be attached to helmets as adhesives can degrade the helmet material, and thus endanger riders. If manufacturers discourage the practice in the name of safety, why would anyone would propose something unsafe?
- Requiring the painting of plate numbers on helmets: manufacturers also discourage the painting of helmets for the same reason above, and so the question above also holds true.
- Requiring metal plates of similar design to vehicle plate numbers to be attached to helmets by means of rivets or bolts: drilling into helmets is not only discouraged by manufacturers, but such damage invalidates any claims to the efficacy of the helmet as a safety device. This is even worse than the preceding two proposals.
- Requiring that riders wear helmets without face shields or visors, or wear the helmets with shields or visors up, or have them removed altogether: face shields and visors are an integral part of standard motorcycle safety helmets, and their function is to protect the rider’s vision from dust, smoke, rain, and glare. Balaclavas, face masks, and similar equipment perform similar functions. Why would anyone propose to make a rider’s vision impaired, as this would compromise the rider’s safety?
However, all these proposals, whose purpose is to prevent the concealment of the rider’s face, is invalid simply because of this: such proposals are made because the proponents are assuming that a concealed face is a sign of the rider’s criminal intent. Many law enforcers would want the general public to believe that because a rider’s face is concealed by his helmet, he is ipso facto someone who intends to do someone else harm.
It is clearly a premise of the rider being guilty until proven innocent. Not only are these proposals wrong from a scientific standpoint, it is wrong under civil rights principles enshrined in our Constitution.
(On a similar note, a proposal I heard mentioned by a rider that they wear vests sporting their plate numbers is also analogously wrong. In his words — and I agree — he asked, “Why should they put the burden of proof on all us riders, for when it is their ineptitude as law enforcement officials that prevents them from catching motorcycle-riding criminals?”)
Can you imagine an underbone motorcycle plying through EDSA with a rider, his significant other, and two children in between? I get horrified by the idea — and even more so when I see it in practice.
This is one issue I cannot help but feel strict about: traffic law enforcement agencies must prohibit the use of motorcycles to carry more than two passengers, even in a situation where the excess passengers above two are small children seated between two adults. No freaking way.
A good friend and rider often says, “Real riders are monogamous” — by which she means that the maximum number of passengers a rider will allow on the machine is one. Fortunately, the LTO and other agencies agree; unfortunately, the agreement ends at night and one will spot quite a number of overloaded motorcycles when the riders are sure there will be nobody to catch them.
On Texting While Riding, On Riding Under the Influence, and Other Foolishness
Another rider I know said this about such irresponsible people: “Let them get into accidents, so that their stupid genes don’t get passed on to the next generation.”
While the sentiment is quite callous, I am rather tempted to agree. Of course, I would hope that nobody else becomes a victim of such riders’s irresponsibility and idiocy.
Riders, Click Here
If you, dear reader, are a rider, perhaps you might enjoy these websites and further reading:
- MMDA Traffic Discipline Office Memorandum No. 1, “TDO Guidelines on Enforcement of EDSA Motorcycle Lanes”, dated February 17, 2012
- Reports and Programs of the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (International Motorcycling Federation): some interesting downloads on rider safety, especially “Full Control” by the Norwegian Motorcycle Union (NMCU)
- A study entitled “Vulnerable Riders”, which discusses in detail some of the points made above, by the European Transport Safety Council
- The Facebook page of the Motorcycle Rights Organization, the group that headed the protest ride yesterday, of which rider Jobert Bolanos represented in the media inteviews
Live free and ride, folks.
(Image from the author.)