In general, our motorists are law-abiding citizens. The few deviant elements who delight in deliberately flouting the law are exceptional. The many who seem to violate every conceivable norm of decent driving do so, I think, not maliciously but ignorantly. They are just unfamiliar with the culture of driving.
If this thesis is correct, our traffic woes would be greatly relieved by a simple educational campaign to teach the motoring public the basic rules of civilized behavior on the streets. Many drivers, for example, do not know right-of-way rules on traffic circles, just as they do not seem to comprehend the meaning of a stop sign on through streets, since this rarely elicits a full stop from our motorists.
Such a campaign should be accompanied by a drive to improve road signs because these are often too small, infrequent, and poorly located to serve the motorist any purpose. Something should be done as well to eliminate petty extortion by traffic enforcers whose predatory practices are legendary. And lastly, traffic planners must resist the temptation of introducing new traffic schemes every so often, and using punitive means to plant these in the consciousness of a helpless public. I refer in particular to the so-called “7-2-7” experimental scheme recently enforced on EDSA, in addition to the odd-even rule that remains in force.
This new traffic scheme bans private vehicles from using EDSA from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. one day a week depending on the last digit of their plate number. Thus, numbers 1 and 2 are banned on Mondays, 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, 5 and 6 on Wednesdays, 7 and 8 on Thursdays, and 9 and 0 on Fridays. There are no exemptions. This is on top of the rule which already bans even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, and 0) on major routes including EDSA on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
The odd-even scheme was working wonderfully well before the 7-2-7 rule was suddenly introduced last April 15th. I scanned the pages of 3 major newspapers from the previous week to see if the MMDA had bothered to publish notices about this major change in traffic rules on EDSA. There were references to alternate routes in light of the repair work on Guadalupe bridge, but none about the “7-2-7” scheme. My family spent a good part of one evening debating what this new rule meant, and what practical implication it bore for our schedules the following morning.
A friend with a No. 8 plate ending, who had always looked forward to a hassle-free drive on EDSA during the rush hours of Tue-Thu-Sat found out to his dismay that No. 8 had suddenly become a liability on Thursdays. The traffic police confiscated his driver’s license that day with a bonus lecture about ignorance of the law not being an excuse.
Ignorance of the law certainly does not excuse anyone from liability.
But that principle is premised on the full publication of the law. Nothing could be more infuriating than to be penalized for violating a rule whose existence one becomes aware of only while being apprehended. What is it called again — “traffic information through traffic enforcement”?
Our colleague Doy Romero who writes an intelligent motoring column for the Inquirer informs us that the 7-2-7 scheme “is not covered by any formal written resolution of MMDA, or even a written order from General Maganto.” He believes that motorists who have been issued tickets for violating this rule should contest the citations.
I believe so too. But what are the chances that anyone would take the trouble of going to court on this issue? Probably nil. For many apprehended motorists, the easy way is still to just accept one’s misfortune, and pay the fine rather than spend many precious hours arguing against one more arbitrary rule.
A greater though unnoticed cost, however, is incurred when arbitrary rules are allowed to hold sway over our lives. A wrong attitude is cultivated when the law is perceived as an instrument of caprice rather than as the embodiment of reason. Ordinary citizens begin to feel that someone in government who has been entrusted with enormous power is unjustly, and without any accountability, experimenting with their lives.
Can anything be more absurd than a ban based on plate number endings that is superimposed upon another ban based also on plate number endings? “If more traffic schemes are imposed,” writes Doy Romero, “we will need a traffic ban calculator.” That is not an amusing prospect. The resulting complexity of traffic rules is the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of crooks and predators. I have no doubt that the ban will further ease traffic on EDSA, but only because motorists would be avoiding this highway trap altogether than risk a costly miscalculation of plate number endings.
The ultimate test of effective law enforcement is not in the number of violators apprehended, but in the order that results from the clear understanding and acceptance of the law. Yet, the opposite has always seemed to prevail in our country: we think the law is working just because an increasing number of people are being arrested.
The orientation of our system of law-enforcement tends to be more punitive than educative. Law-enforcers tend to think of simple traffic violations as acts of hostility, and of violators as enemies, rather than as probable victims of unjust and ambiguous laws.
A good law is one that is simple, well-publicized and accepted as rational by every reasonable person. Its main object is not so much to punish as to create order in the community. Traffic rules on EDSA, just like those local ordinances that sanction the towing of illegally parked vehicles in the city, have become examples of what public laws should not be. They are confusing, unevenly enforced, and excessively punitive.
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