Filipinos on the road violate the seat belt use law.
Are drivers buckling up out of force of habit? Or, afraid of being issued a ticket, they use a seat belt only when an enforcer is nearby? Is the riding public even aware that wearing a seat belt is mandated by law?
The Seat Belt Law is 20 years old today but just by looking around, one finds that buckling up is still not a voluntary act among passengers and even drivers.
The law (RA 8750) was approved on Aug. 5, 1999 and took effect on May 1 the following year. It requires drivers and front-seat passengers of public and private vehicles to wear seat belts at “all times” while inside a running vehicle.
Yet the two-decade-old Seat Belts Use Act of 1999 continues to be defied and ignored by many. “It is still the most violated road traffic law in the Philippines,” Atty Roberto Valera, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) field enforcement division officer, said in an interview.
There were 133,632 violations recorded last year, according to the 2018 report of the agency that is mandated to enforce land transport rules. Fines and penalties collected from violators amounted to more than P169 million in 2018, higher than the P144.3 million collected in 2017.
Jeepney drivers are biggest violators
Valera says that while a number of drivers of private vehicles defy the law, the biggest violators are jeepney drivers.
“If you look at the jeeps, they have installed seat belts but just for the purpose of inspection. Most of these are not functioning,” he told VERA Files.
“They are aware of the law but they still don’t follow the law. Most of the time they don’t use it, unless an enforcer is in sight,” he said. So it’s like playing cat and mouse with them, he added.
The law requires front-seat jeepney riders to wear a seat belt. If a passenger refuses to wear or cannot wear the device, he or she has to move to the back.
“But (drivers) do not do that because they will lose passengers that they will charge, so they still do not move to the back,” Valera explained.
Data from the Department of Health’s Online National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (ONEISS) show that between 2010 and 2016, seat belt use has been on a decline.
Raising public awareness
What’s behind the non-compliance of a 20-year-old law?
People either do not know what the law stipulates or they do not realize the dangers of not being strapped in a seat belt, Valera said in an earlier interview.
“I think the main problem is a combination of the indifference of the riding public in terms of road safety and enforcement,” said Atty Yla Paras, a road safety advocate and fellow of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety Legal Development Program.
“Primarily, I think it is a perception problem,” she said, explaining that wearing a seat belt is not being properly framed as a safety measure. “It really comes down to awareness,” she added, as many motorists believe that seat belts are “a mere inconvenience”.
On the enforcement side, Paras thinks it is a matter of building capacity of police officers and others deputized to do the job, as well as making it a priority.
Enforcement tends to focus on "bigger" problems such as speeding and drink driving, she said.
The LTO is aware it has to educate the public so enforcers go out of their way to inform them of the need to wear seat belts, Valera said.
“No specific dates but we distribute IEC (information, education, communication) materials. We hang ‘Wear your Seat belt’ streamers on our patrol cars for this advocacy,” he added.
He said fines and penalties collected by the enforcement agency go to road safety advocacy to encourage safety measures.
A driver of a private vehicle is fined P 1,000 for the first offense and P 2,000 for the second. The third and succeeding times one is caught not wearing a seat belt, a fine of P 5,000 is imposed and the driver’s license will be confiscated.
Having a child below the age of 12 occupying the front-seat also counts as a violation.
Seat belts save lives
Seat belts are proven to be effective in reducing the risk of fatal crashes by up to 50 percent for front-seat occupants, and 25 percent among rear-seat occupants, according to the 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the event of a sudden halt, riders are pushed back, restrained by seat-belts, saved from a possible injury. The design of the safety device is such that it significantly reduces the risk of a passenger being ejected from the vehicle in the event of a crash.
Road crash survivor Einstein Rojas 28, is a testament to the seat belt’s effectiveness, having been saved six years ago when his car crashed against a speeding container van.
He was buckled up driving his Chevrolet Aveo, a small car, along Cubao, Quezon City, with a friend who was not strapped in a seat belt.
His car shrunk in size compared to the large van which knocked his vehicle, spinning it back to 180 degrees, making his car look like a “total wreck,” shared Rojas.
After regaining consciousness, he was filled with panic after seeing his friend “groaning in pain, lifted on the dashboard.”
“I immediately removed my seat belt and called for help from the bystanders while holding the hand of my friend who is in pain.” Rojas recounted.
“That trauma made me ever more cautious while on the road as I will not accept anyone getting hurt while I am driving,” he said.
Since the incident, Rojas has made sure passengers in his car wear seat-belts before he drives.
The experience did not immediately snap him into advocating road safety, but he admits that while he was looking for answers on how the crash could have been prevented, he came to realize that he is “slowly becoming a road safety advocate.”