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BEYOND BODY

Road Ethics

"Is There Such a Thing?"
By: Jose Maria M. Villarama IIRoad Ethics

My father used to bring me and my brother to school when I was a freshman in college. Every day, we would take Kalayaan Avenue in Quezon City to go to the university. Each time, too, my father would get a thrill passing through an accident-prone intersection along that avenue, where he would not usually yield to crossing vehicles. "We have the right of way," he would always say.

As someone who would only learn to drive two years later, I didn't know what he meant. What I was concerned about was our car not getting hit by crossing vehicles. I would later learn what my father was trying to teach me. Unfortunately, however, not many motorists on Philippine roads know about right of way rules, much less, simple road courtesy.

Reviewing "Right of Way“

In relation to driving, the right of way means a person or vehicle's entitlement to pass or proceed over others in a particular road situation. It should be followed by motorists, bicycle riders, and pedestrians alike, to ensure order and safety on the road.

The right of way rules do not state who has the right to pass; they only say who must give way or stop. Traffic signs are (or should be) universal and wherever one sees them, they should be followed. Here are some basic points to remember when deciding which motorist has the right of way:

  • A stop sign means the motorist should yield or do a rolling stop before proceeding or crossing the street.
  • When two vehicles reach a 4-way stop (an intersection with 4 stop signs) at the same time, the vehicle on the right should pass first. 
  • Vehicles on the "through" road in T-intersections have the right of way.

Different Interpretation

In the Philippines, however, the right of way means "I will make the first move, I will go first." This seems to be the general attitude of drivers, especially in Metro Manila, thanks in no part to how driving schools emphasize on teaching “defensive” driving skills. While “defensive” means always being one step ahead of the other to avert any possible mishap, Philippine drivers, both formally trained and those who are not, tend to practice “offensive” driving instead. Knowing how to go on an offensive, i.e., showing more aggression or being able to intimidate the other driver, seems to be a measure of how good or skilled a driver is.

Change in Attitude

While it is true that it is difficult to teach old dogs new tricks, attitudes, along with improved road networks, conditions and traffic law enforcement, can help change drivers’ mentality and disposition.

Again, knowing who has the right of way should not be a matter of sticking to the rule book but should be guided by courtesy and common sense. Keeping in mind the following may help make the driving experience safe and stress-free:

Treat pedestrians like kings - While most pedestrians in the country have no regard for road rules and believe that traffic rules for vehicles do not apply to pedestrians, human life is very much paramount. Drivers should always be alert and exert a little more courtesy and patience to pedestrians to avoid causing injury to the latter. After all, in this case, man has no chance in the battle against the machine.

Keep eyes on the road, hands on the wheel – It cannot be emphasized enough that drivers should not use cellphones to call or text while driving. Using hands-free devices to take voice calls is no guarantee that the driver’s focus will be 100% on the road, especially when the conversation is heated or requires thinking or concentration.

Stop honking horns unnecessarily – Horns were installed on cars as a warning or to alert other drivers of possible or impending danger. In the United States, the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state reminds would-be drivers not to use horns unnecessarily so as not to upset other drivers. Here in the Philippines, however, motorists think honking car horns can magically speed up traffic or untangle a gridlock. Horns are also being used needlessly to vent frustration, startle or intimidate other drivers, or buy one’s way into being given the right of way.

Do not tailgate – Similar to the use of horns as a magical device to speed up traffic, many motorists in the Philippines tailgate because they believe they are covering more distance per minute by moving each time the car in front of them moves forward. Tailgating also makes sure that a driver never gets cut by another from the left or right lanes. Not surprisingly, tailgating almost always results in the car in front being rear-ended by the car behind.

Use signal lights to indicate turns - My father could not quite understand why many motorists would not use signal lights every time they would make a turn, even when activating them is just a flick of a switch. It’s as if an additional course, fortune telling, needs to be taught in driving school to help would-be drivers figure out which way other motorists would go. While it is impossible for cars not to have signal lights (except when the light is busted and the driver has yet to change it) knowing the classic hand-signaling gestures comes in handy too. It is also very important to remember that headlights should never be used as a signaling device because there is no universally accepted meaning for it or the meaning varies per country or jurisdiction. Some believe it means the “flasher” is yielding the right of way and is allowing the oncoming car to pass while others believe the opposite. Conflicting interpretations can lead to car crashes or accidents.

Resist rubbernecking – This is the temptation to slow down and check out an accident or whatever is ahead of the road that has caused traffic to slow down. Aside from causing further delays, rubbernecking is disrespectful to the victims of an accident and can cause other mishaps especially when vehicles of curious motorists stop abruptly or tailgate.

Express gratitude - Often taken for granted is saying thank you by waving to the other driver for simple courtesies. Motorist letting another pass even if the former has the right of way can cool heads and brighten moods. One should stay focused on the road whilst give courtesy to the other motorists. Horns or headlights should not be used to convey gratitude. Yielding to another driver is polite but make certain not to cause unnecessary slowdown of traffic.

There are many other situations that require courtesy from motorists. These can be learned via lectures, training manuals or some other resources. But not all drivers have the luxury of being trained formally and equally. Again, one should make it a point to exercise good judgment and respect motorists and pedestrians when sitting behind the wheel. It is perhaps in this regard that the “golden rule” should also be applied: “Do unto other drivers what you want other drivers to do unto you.”

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