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FACT: Road Design Greatly Impacts the Number of Vehicle Deaths in PH

The World Health Organization (WHO)‘s Global Status Report for 2018 reported that around 348 serious road injuries happen daily in the Philippines. What’s more, there are around 35 road fatalities that happen each day, with most of these casualties related to motorcycle deaths.

Taken from Wikipedia

This comes to no surprise: motorcycle riders have been the top victims of road crashes in Metro Manila since 2010. According to statistics from the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the total number of registered vehicles in 2015 was 8.7 million. Around 4.9 million of these are from registered bikes alone–so that’s almost half the entire registered vehicles in the country.

No wonder motorcycle road deaths are a common occurrence in Philippine roads today.

Road Deaths are “predictable” and “preventable”

Motorcycle-related or not, these fatalities can be predicted and prevented just by looking at the road’s design.

Greg Smith, Managing Director, Strategic Projects for the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) says that road deaths and injuries are “predictable.”

“The evidence linking road design and risk of death is very strong,” said Smith. “Vehicles are more likely to run off the side of the road on curves–and people are more likely to be killed when that vehicle strikes a fixed object or rolls down an embankment. Pedestrians are more likely to be killed when there are no sidewalks.”

He also added that they can be significantly “prevented” just by making small changes on how a road is designed.

“Simple, affordable adjustments can have a large impact on risk,” he shared. “Accessible sidewalks are like a vaccine for pedestrian deaths. Safety barriers protect people when they run off the side of the road. Street lighting ensures that intersections, curves, and pedestrians are not hidden.”

Road Crashes and Deaths Can be Avoided with the Proper Road Design

The facts are clear: The total number of deaths due to road crashes in the entire country has been increasing since 2006. And since 2015, the number of road crash-related deaths has already reached 10,012.

IRAP reported that road crash is the leading cause of death for young Filipinos today. And according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), those with ages 20-24 years old are the most frequent victims of road crashes between 2006 and 2015. This is followed by those in the 25-29 years old age bracket.

The good news is that these figures can significantly go down just by properly designing the road. And if you think they can’t make significant improvements, then you’d be surprised. Even making small changes in road design and implementation can lessen these road fatalities significantly. Here are some examples:

ROAD DESIGN FLAW: UNDIVIDED ROADS

HEAD-ON FATALITIES OCCUR ON UNDIVIDED ROADS–OR THOSE THAT HAVE NO CLEAR DELINEATION LINES TO SEPARATE THE ROADS

Smith noted that the risk of serious injuries and fatalities are completely unavoidable when the vehicle is speeding at 80 kph or more. What’s more alarming, however, is that many of the national roads in the Philippines where vehicles travel at around 80 kph are undivided.

These roads are considered undivided:

Figure 1: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith. Image taken from https://www.rappler.com/nation/211527-head-on-collision-zambales-september-2018
Figure 2: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith. Image taken from https://www.rappler.com/nation/211527-head-on-collision-zambales-september-2018

“On these roads, there’s just a splash of paint separating opposing traffic. One small error often results in catastrophe,” said Smith.

SIMPLE SOLUTION TO THE ROAD DESIGN: You can easily change this by adding median lanes in the middle of the road to make the roads look more visually divided.

Figure 3: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith

Another option would be to use safety barriers so that when a mistake is made, the safety barrier catches them–like this flexible wire-rope barrier:

Figure 4: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith

ROAD DESIGN FLAW: MISSING SIDEWALKS; NON-EXISTENT CROSSING FACILITIES

PEDESTRIAN FATALITIES OCCUR WHERE SIDEWALKS ARE MISSING, OR SAFE CROSSING FACILITIES DON’T EXIST

Around 87 percent of roads with pedestrians and with cars that drive 40 kph or more have no sidewalks in the Philippines. What’s more, there is a bigger chance that serious mishaps can occur the faster the vehicle’s speed becomes.

Figure 5: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith

SIMPLE SOLUTION TO THE ROAD DESIGN: The solution is simple but often taken for granted–just add a small sidewalk on the road. Making such a minor change makes it hugely safer for people to use.

Figure 6: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith

ROAD DESIGN FLAW: NO MOTORCYCLE LANES

ONLY 5 PERCENT OF THE ROADS WITH HIGH MOTORCYCLE FLOWS CONTAIN MOTORCYCLE LANES IN THE PHILIPPINES

This is one of the most common problems in many roads here–not enough motorcycle lanes.

Motorcycle lanes are important because they separate highly-vulnerable motorcyclists from faster-moving and heavier vehicles. Still, safety is just one advantage of having these on the road.  Another advantage is lesser traffic congestion, since there won’t be motorcycles swerving between vehicles.

Figure 7: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith. Image taken from https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1812916

SIMPLE SOLUTION TO THE ROAD DESIGN: Add motorcycle lanes to the existing road or highway such as the ones found in Malaysia, like these examples:

Figure 8: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith
Figure 9: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith

Working Creatively to Solve Road Design Problems

Oftentimes, the most common complaint that people give is that Filipinos are undisciplined. And while this may be true in some ways, there are creative and resourceful ways to work around this problem.

“Engineering plays a much longer term. You can design it in a particular way it can affect behavior,” Smith explained.

Here’s an example. This road in Samar was improved by adding a sidewalk (Figure 10). The left image was the original road before the changes, while the right image showed the modifications.

Figure 10: Business Case for Safer Roads: Philippines Report, Greg Smith

Note that they added pedestrian lanes on the upgraded road here. In an ideal world, everyone will use it when crossing, but we have to be realistic: not everyone will willingly want to do this. People naturally gravitate to what is easy and convenient for them, so typically, they would just cross the road anywhere.

Instead of fighting natural behavior, Smith suggested that engineers compensate to the culture (and natural behavior) of people. So what the  government can do–like what Samar did in this case, was to add rails on the side. This naturally forces some (or even most) commuters to use the pedestrian lanes.

Final Word

According to Smith, the more roads and pavements are built, the faster the vehicular deaths occur on the road. And while it can’t be fully avoided, we can definitely lessen the odds of these accidents from happening by making small changes and upgrades in road design.

Of course, this might mean making adjustments that can temporarily cause discomfort for many motorists. The government will also need to use additional funds to construct these modifications. It can be a financial burden for everyone–and can even result to increased taxes down the line.

Whatever the case, we think they’re truly worth it, especially when it will help save a lot of lives in the process.

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