Motorcycles: Friend or Fiend?

motorcycle

Just recently a couple of my friends were riding in their 5-month old car when, upon turning slowly up an elevated corner, a motorcycle appeared out of nowhere and hit the right side of their bumper.

They were all pretty shaken up. The motorcyclist fell but luckily was not injured. After checking if he was alright, my friends let the biker go despite the fact that their bumper suffered some damage (a hole and some scratches) and it was pretty clear that the biker had been at fault.

Incidents like this are not rare, especially here in Cebu. If anything, they’re just growing in number and result in far worse than just a few scratches.

The Rise of the Motorcycle

The rising number of motorcycle accidents in recent years could be a side-effect of the tremendous number of motorcycles now on the streets.

It’s understandable why the use of motorcycles in the Philippines has increased so significantly in the past decade. Once upon a time they may have been viewed as reckless vehicles, often driven by irresponsible, thug types. But nowadays they’re the staple vehicle for the practical pinoy. There are probably more of these bikes out on the road now than there are private cars, though it may not be obvious due to the limited amount of space they occupy.

That’s one of the major advantages that these vehicles offer. Because of their size they allow the driver to easily zip through traffic-congested streets and find parking spots at a fraction of the time it would take to find one for a car. They cost a lot less than a car and for many drivers, these bikes are a reliable source of income. Where there’s an uphill venue, a multi-phased village or a far-flung sitio, you’re sure to find a motorcycle driver willing to take you there for a fee.

My Experience with Motorcycles

I personally benefit from these motorcycles. The village where I currently reside is located in an inner road where no other means of public transport is readily available save for these motorcycles, locally known as habal-habal. Almost every day I ride one of these bikes home. They save me from the sweltering 15-minute walk under the 3 o’clock sun, and also from catcalling tambays that frequent the nearby corner.

I was not always allowed to ride bikes though.

This wasn’t the typical “my-parents-won’t-let-me-ride-motorcycles-because-they’re-not-safe” scenario. It was far more serious than that.

When I was just 11 years old, my eldest sister died. She was hit while crossing the street by a motorcycle driver who had tried to beat the red light by overtaking on the left side of the road, past the yellow line. Of course, my sister never saw him, she was already looking at the flow of traffic on the other side.

She was 18 years old.

For a long time after her death my parents were understandably more fearful for our safety. My remaining two sisters and I were immediately forbidden to ride any motorcycles, and taught to abide by many other precautionary measures.

To this day my parents continue to be concerned for our safety and would still prefer that we not ride motorcycles, though I think now they’ve learned to have a little more faith and a little less fear.

You could say that it’s because time heals all wounds, and it’s been a long time since my sister passed away. You could say that it’s because my sisters and I are all grown-up now, and that this is a case of children growing up being inversely proportional to the amount of worry parents have over them.

But I think it also has to do with vigilance. They know through the years that they’ve taught and trained us that we know what we are supposed to do to keep ourselves safe.

Increasing Numbers Should Mean More Vigilance

If only such was the case with these motorcycles.

It seems to me that as the number of motorcycles driven on the streets increased, vigilance in their use and safety on the road has only decreased.

I pass by the Banilad-Talamban areas practically every day and let me tell you, I don’t think I can count how many motorcycle accidents I’ve already seen or heard about happen in these areas this year alone. One of them even involved a decapitation of sorts, when a motorcyclist got too close to a ten-wheeler truck (It’s a ten-wheeler truck! OF COURSE it has blind spots! Why in the world would you drive your bare neck near it???).

I’ve seen acquaintances and random people with gashes on their elbows, clearly from motorcycle accidents. A lot of people I know have had experiences with motorcycle accidents, have heard of one or had nearly been involved in one. Practically all the car owners I know loathe motorcycles.

It’s a hard truth to swallow, but the fact is motorcycles are the more dangerous vehicles because they offer less protection for the riders, at really unsafe speeds. They become even more dangerous when drivers don’t abide by traffic rules.

If these vehicles, which are clearly more prone to accidents that cause injuries and even fatalities are to continue to proliferate throughout this city and this country, then there should be stricter implementation of rules surrounding them. They shouldn’t be allowed to speed up or counter-flow any time they wish simply because they are smaller vehicles. We all know now what the consequences of these actions are and yet many bikers still go on doing such things, endangering lives on the street, primarily their own.

They shouldn’t be allowed to drive up sidewalks, where pedestrians are confidently walking, thinking all the while that they are safe from the dangers of the road only to come face-to-face with an impatient biker. Pedestrians have no choice but to quickly make way when in fact, the pedestrian has the right of way. It is a sidewalk, not a motorcycle lane.

If we can’t curb the number of motorcycles on the streets, we should be able to curb the amount of danger and accidents that they can cause.

So maybe the real question isn’t if motorcycles are friends or fiends. Obviously, they are plenty beneficial. I can personally attest to this. Perhaps the real question here is, when are we going to take responsibility for owning them? When are we going to stop ignoring established traffic rules just because we’re on a motorcycle? When are we going to treat the management of these vehicles with the vigilance that has long been overdue, as evidenced by the many accidents, injuries and casualties they’ve caused?

I really hope it’s soon.

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