Cultural norms and road safety
3 mins read

Cultural norms and road safety

While recent data from the Department of Health (DOH) shows a promising decline in road traffic deaths in Western Visayas – from 8.34 percent per 100,000 population in 2019 to 7 percent in 2022 – these figures still underscore troubling risky behaviors that put lives at risk on a daily basis.

Drunk driving and the casual use of motorcycle helmets, often worn on the elbow rather than on the head, as pointed out by Dr. May Ann Sta. Lucia, head of the DOH Region 6 Local Health Support Division, are certainly acts of negligence, but they are also indicative of deeply ingrained cultural attitudes that trivialize road safety. This behavior endangers not only the individuals involved, but also the community at large, which suffers the consequences of these preventable accidents.

The decline in road fatalities in recent years is certainly welcome and is largely due to targeted road safety campaigns and multi-sector collaborations involving the DOH, the Land Transportation Office (LTO), and local governments, among others. However, the persistently high percentage of incidents involving alcohol and the improper use of safety equipment requires a cultural change that no signage or legislative measures alone can correct.

How can we encourage this necessary cultural change?

Education must play a fundamental role. Initiatives such as the Johns Hopkins University Road Safety Course are a step in the right direction, but these educational efforts need to be more widespread and integrated into driver education programs and regular driver education programs. This education must not only inform, but also challenge existing norms and highlight the dire consequences of such negligence using real-world examples and statistical data provided by agencies such as the DOH.

It is also important to strengthen enforcement of existing laws. DOH’s collaboration with the Highway Patrol Group and the Philippine National Police must be intensified, with regular sobriety checks and tougher penalties for those found driving under the influence of alcohol or without a safety helmet. Enforcement of these laws must be relentless and visible, to serve as both a deterrent and a constant reminder of the seriousness with which these issues are taken.

Local governments in Iloilo and the entire region have an important role to play. They must be at the forefront in enforcing and, if necessary, reinforcing ordinances that encourage helmet and seat belt use, and combat distracted and drunk driving. Public awareness campaigns can be localized to reflect the region’s specific challenges and statistics, making the issue more relevant and urgent to its residents.

As the Ministry of Health and local authorities continue their efforts in road safety, the population as a whole must re-evaluate and change its attitude towards road safety. The lives saved and injuries avoided through such a change will not only be reflected in statistics, but more importantly in enriched and prolonged lives.

Without cultural change, efforts remain only partially effective; with it, they have the power to transform communities.