MANILA – An official of World Health Organization (WHO) Philippines on Tuesday cited the need to strengthen the country’s road traffic safety system to bring down the number of deaths, injuries and disabilities from road accidents.

"To reduce the number of road traffic deaths and injuries, a holistic approach, such as a safe system approach, needs to be adopted. This can be achieved through robust policies on safer road, vehicles and safe, appropriate speed supported by a range of activities related to education, behavior change, regulation enforcement and penalties," said Dr. John Juliard Go, WHO Philippines’ National Professional Officer on Road Safety and Non-Communicable Diseases.

Speaking during a forum on road safety policies and enforcement, organized by WHO and VERA Files, Go said road traffic deaths and injuries remain a public health problem.

"Globally, about 1.3 million each year or over 3,400 people every day die on the road, while tens of millions of people are injured or disabled every year. Road traffic crashes are the immediate cause of death among all age groups and the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29 years," he said.

Go said that in the Philippines, road crashes result in about 30 deaths per day or more than 10,000 deaths per year.

“The deaths had been continually alarming and increasing over the years. Approximately half of the deaths are among vulnerable road users -- motorcyclists, pedestrians, and cyclists," he said, adding that these untimely deaths, injuries and disabilities contribute to poverty and cost the economy about 3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Go pointed out that the country already has “a good number of laws”, such as those on the use of seatbelts and helmets, speed limits, drunk and distracted driving.

"These laws are very good but they need to be enforced and implemented strictly," he told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview.

However, there are a few more that need to be passed, such as the mandatory use of child seats or restraints, which Go said prevents fatal and serious injuries by as much as 70 to 80 percent.

The Philippines also has to learn the best practices of other countries.

"Many of these practices have already been adopted by the Philippines. So, it is a matter of putting all these policies in place and strengthening our enforcement mechanism for these laws to be the standard of behavior in the land," he said.

Other ways to reduce road accidents would be to improve the quality of roads and set up structures for the protection of road users.

"Standards for vehicles should also be put in place to make sure that vehicles running in our roads are of good quality," he said.

All these measures, combined with proper governance, especially by local government units (LGUs), could help promote road safety, Go said.

Executive director of Imagine Law, lawyer Sophia San Luis, said LGUs are in the best position to know the needs of their constituents.

"They can observe if seatbelt and helmet use is low, and if children compete with speeding vehicles in crossing (the) streets," San Luis said.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, suggested putting body cameras on traffic enforcers as a way of preventing extortion, bribery and other abuses, both on the part of traffic personnel and offenders.

Ejercito said this could lead to a change in behavior wherein offenders would admit their fault and willingly surrender their license instead of bribing traffic enforcers.

In fairness, he said, while it is true that some traffic enforcers accept bribes -- because they are among the lowest-paid salary workers and owing to the difficulty of their job that exposes them to the elements -- there are also those who are honorable and dedicated to their work.

During the forum, held at the Palawan Ballroom of Edsa Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong, the Handbook for Journalists was launched to guide the country’s journalists on how to contribute to the goal of making roads safer for users, and craft data-driven reports on road safety.

The handbook was made in memory of Lourdes "Chit" Estella-Simbulan, a trustee of VERA Files and journalism professor at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, who died in 2011 when a passenger bus rammed the taxi she was riding near the UP Ayala TechnoHub in Diliman, Quezon City. (PNA)