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Driving in Metro Manila: Not for the Faint of Heart

We revisit an editorial we wrote in 2004. Since its writing, traffic in the metropolis has not improved and in many ways seems to have gotten much worse.

ourists and balikbayans in Metro Manila are confronted with the dilemma of whether to get behind the wheel and drive themselves around the metropolis orClogged roadways like this one in Manila are an everyday occurrence. A blue haze from the mostly diesel engines contributes to the city's terrible air quality get someone else to do it for them. For those visiting from countries such as the US and Canada, driving in Manila can be quite an unnerving experience. It quickly becomes apparent that motoring in Manila operates on a significantly different paradigm.

Two elements combine to make driving a decidedly tourist-unfriendly experience: first is the Filipino driver. Make no mistake, Filipinos have excellent driving skills. They maneuver their vehicles to within inches of one another without hesitation. Filipino Driving habits are another thing altogether. They break almost every driving rule in the book: they make sudden left turns from the far right lane; they straddle lanes; they cut into freeway traffic; they stop wherever they feel like; they jump red lights; they drive with their headlights off at night; and they use their horns incessantly.

Buses, jeepneys, cars, trucks, and pedestrians all vie for the same crowded thoroughfares making even a short commute a major inconvenienceThe second element are the roads in the Metropolis. There is an appalling lack of roadway signage. Many street signs are missing. Over the past decades numerous fly-overs and skyways were built, but signage on them are for the most part dismal. Some highway turnoffs have their their signs posted only on the turnoff themselves, leaving the uninitiated driver little time to prepare for it. A far cry from the driver-friendly freeways of the West. There is also a lack of consistency in signage making some signs hard to read when cruising at highway speeds. Add to this the lack of lane delineations on many roads and highways. Even more egregious are lanes that suddenly disappear without warning, forcing drivers to suddenly merge to adjacent lanes. The litany of faults can go on and on.

But rather than simply complain about this sad state of affairs, here's what we feel should be done:

  1. 1. Driving education should be a required course in high schools all over the country. The reason Filipinos drive the way they do is because no one taught them otherwise. With traffic growing significantly worse in and around Metro Manila, proper driving techniques will go a long way in alleviating some of the congestion and traffic jams that plague the daily commute.
  2. 2. The National government should step in and correct the many shortcomings found in the country's roadways. It can start by demanding consistency in signage; making sure highways have clearly delineated lanes; and making sure warning signs or roadway markings are present to alert drivers of potential hazards ahead.

Making Philippine roads driver-friendly will go a long way in making them Tourist and Balikbayan-friendly. If the only way visitors can get around is to have someone drive for them, their mobility becomes somewhat diminished. And let us not forget that their overall experience in the country inevitably includes traveling from one place to another.

We'll have more to say on this issue in the near future, so "stay tuned."

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