LAST October 26, a Toyota Innova piloted by Grab driver Allan Sarmiento hit raised metal scaffolding set up beside a large concrete posts Taft Avenue’s LRT. It happened at around 4:00 in the morning, 26 minutes after . As a result of the collision a metal pipe from the collapsed scaffolding came loose and pierced into the front window, straight into the left rear seat where 20-year old Marko de Guzman was sitting, asleep.
The pipe cracked his skull and damaged a fist-sized portion of his brain. He was in critical condition for over a month.
Yesterday, (November 28) the #MightyMarko passed away.
Police reports obtained from the Manila Traffic Bureau showed that in the initial investigation, the Grab driver felt sleepy as he was driving along the road. The vehicle suddenly swerved left into the metal scaffolding erected to refurbish sections of the LRT. The scaffolding was improperly insulated from the road demarcated only by a small barrier and yellow caution tape with bright spotlights around it.
The young man was a graduating mechanical engineering student at the University of Santo Tomas. Even if he did survive this completely avoidable incident, the life-threatening injuries he sustained were irreversible—meaning he may not be able to walk, or talk and his memory will be significantly affected.
Immediately after he was rushed to the hospital, he had already lost his memory. According to a social media post by his aunt, “he does not remember his mother Luz.”
A deeper investigation into the case revealed that it involved a myriad of conditions that if the safety of all road users were considered, this tragic road crash could have been avoided.
“I WAS SLEEPY”. “Forgive me, I was sleepy,” the Grab driver told Marko's mother in Tagalog.
The physical and mental state of the driver is possibly the most important part of the safety aspect in this episode. While he admitted he was sleepy when he crashed, the real question was why did he still accept the fare?
Grab has a driver training program, which is supposedly aimed at improving driver behavior, providing better ride experience for the passengers, tech-based customer support and an improved driver welfare program aimed at allowing drivers to earn more money if they focus on servicing more customers.
Nowhere in the key aspects of this training program is a comprehensive focus on safety.
According to Grab however, the safety component is already built into the “driver behavior” module. In May 2018 the company conducted a 100-day rehabilitation activity called the expanded Grab Driver Academy.
Aside from the four aspects earlier mentioned, the expanded program now included modules on road courtesy, customer service and data privacy and social media handling, the latter two as compliance to newly enforced laws and adverse reactions of the riding public on they way the platform performs during peak hours.
“We have carefully studied new features that will further enhance our services while ensuring passenger safety on the road," a Grab official said about the training program.
Sarmiento faced charges of reckless imprudence resulting to physical injuries and elevated to manslaughter. In initial reports the driver was said to have stopped reaching out to Marko’s family to provide financial assistance because according to the common carrier contract the maximum amount of insurance that can be paid is only P200,000 maximum. After that amount the TNVS operator will be the one who will take care of the rest.
ROAD INSURANCE. In a press statement Leo Gonzales, Grab Philippines public relations head said that its company is taking some responsibility for the situation.
“We have always prioritized the safety of our passengers and driver-partners since day one,” Gonzales said.
But the question is, what is the extent of this priority. Why did it happen? Though the TNV service was not completely to blame, the circumstances that led to his death were all, in the strictest sense, criminal.
The kind of coverage that is usually attached to a TNVS operation only covers that of a private vehicle. Even if the type of insurance is comprehensive and is supposed to be able to cover most possibilities in a road crash, the amount of coverage is not sufficient. The insurance requirements of public utility vehicles, including taxis should theoretically be higher, but even taxis operating in the city only have the minimal insurance (called third party liability) coverage.
LTFRB Board Member Aileen Lizada, confirmed that the insurance coverage is indeed limited and actually frees Grab from any liability, if the law was to be the only basis.
“It is the TNVS that is liable, not Grab. This is because they were the ones issued the CPC (Certificate of Public Convenience). They are common carrier and if you are common carrier under the civil code, you must exercise extraordinary diligence to your passengers,” Lizada said.
Up to the time of Marko's death, hospital bills have reached over P3M—an amount that is not covered under Grab’s current insurance coverage.
“We are also assisting them in claiming their insurance, which is offered to all Grab passengers and driver-partners. Our priority is Marko’s fast recovery and we will continue to offer assistance beyond what we are obligated to provide,” Grab’s PR statement mentioned. It is not clear if the company will assume payment of the full amount as part of its assistance.
Grab’s personal accident insurance covers the accidental death, permanent disablement and medical expenses for injuries sustained after a crash. In the case of Marko, the policy statement of the insurance is compensated based on “the degree of impairment or disability, as set out by the policy regarding the relevant percentage for each part of the body.”
The insurance only covered the costs “that is reimbursement to the insured person for any such medical expenses for treatment within 30 days of the accident and up to the maximum of a further 30 days (from the date of that first treatment) for follow-up treatment, up to the limit specified by the insurance policy.”
The bottom disclaimer of the insurance agreement states that “if the Insured Person becomes entitled to a reimbursement of all or part of the above claims from any other source, we will only be liable for the excess of the amount recoverable from such other source.”
Now that Marko is dead, what are the liabilities of all the parties involved?
“The insurance coverage must be cleared and applicable in all conditions and in all situations,” Arnel Doria, road safety advocate and automotive expert said. Doria who has a radio show called the “Good Trip” has been pushing for road safety since the late 90s through the upgrade of driver skills.
“I had asked some of the biggest insurers about what kind of policies they have with Grab or other TNVS services and they said they had no distinct program running for TNV services and that most utilize the common comprehensive insurance schemes,” he explained.
THE SCAFFOLDING. The third element in the road crash—which is the actual cause of his death—is the galvanized metal pipe from the scaffold.
The scaffoldings were set-up around 9pm and taken down before 5am everyday. Each scaffold takes up almost the width of one lane of Taft Ave. It has one landing on the topmost part where workers did refurbishment on the pillars of the LRT.
The set-up of the scaffolding around the construction site was haphazardly done—dangerous to both cars and pedestrians. The metal pipe structure occupies the inner lane of Taft Ave. To illuminate the workers bright light surround the area, pointing up to the work zone, which can even be glaring to drivers. To separate the working area from the road a metal fence was used. In many cases (the scaffoldings were at portions of the road from Kalaw all the way to Pablo Ocampo Street. Some had orange cones but it was clear that there were no appropriate warning signs or demarcations.
Should the construction company be held liable too?
“I believe so,” Alberto Suansing, road safety advocate and Secretary General of the Philippine Global Road Safety Partnership said.
“In such an event, the trigger could have been the car but equally culpable should be the other elements involved. That scaffolding should have been made stronger, or mechanical lifts should have been used instead. Also there are rules as to how the demarcations should be marked, with guide light, orange safety cones. If as you said there was not enough of these then there might be culpability,” Suansing elaborated.
GRAB’S REACTIONS. In a news story by Emil Sumangil that appeared in GMA’s 24 Oras Grab had reacted to the mother of the victim, saying initially that since they did not own the vehicle involved in the crash, thus they had no obligations.
“We were told that since they did not own the car, and the driver was not a direct employee of Grab, they did not have any responsibility,” Marko’s mother said in Tagalog.
“So from P100,000, they did go up sa price but it was still unacceptable. Basically they were just offering us the insurance of the car,” she also said based on the GMA report.
But Grab Philippines said that they were in constant communication with Marko’s family and have offered financial assistance for his medications
“While the family has not accepted any of our offers, we are continuously reaching out to extend adequate support that would cover Marko’s hospital expenses. We are also assisting them in claiming their insurance, which is offered to all Grab passengers and driver-partners. Our priority is Marko’s fast recovery and we will continue to offer assistance beyond what we are obligated to provide,” Gonzales said in the statement.
At his passing Grab issued another statement saying that Marko’s death is a “wake-up call for all motorists to recognize the greater responsibility they hold the moment they hit the road.”
“Our priority is to cooperate with the authorities to help shed light on the cause of this accident and bring swift justice to Marko's early passing. The parties directly involved must be held to greater liability," the company commented.
THE SECOND CAR. There is not much news about the second car in the crash, a white Mitsubishi Lancer, which hit the rear of the Grab Innova moments after it crashed into the scaffolding. The car made an illegal left-turn in a no left-turn zone before the incident.
UPGRADE SAFETY. At the 13th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion (Safety 2018) in Bangkok recently, the focus on road safety as a holistic approach should take into consideration all the factors that make the road equally safe for all road users.
Aside from ensuring insurance coverage, better driver training, the removal of quotas for drivers may be a possible solution to this kind of problem.
The fact that that driver admitted to falling asleep meant that he was driving for a living rushing to meet a quota or target. This is not the original intention of Grab (or Uber, for that matter) as TNV services.
The original intention of ride-hailing, carpooling services is to use excess capacity of vehicles for transporting of passengers. Technically it is a separate entity from a taxi, whose sole intention is to ferry passengers. In the Philippines many Grab cars are not owner driven, nor is excess capacity the rule. Many of these vehicles operate like glorified taxis—which is another aspect that needs to be brought to attention.
The actual safety on and around Philippine roads—especially those in such tight spaces as Taft Ave. must be seriously considered. Poor safety engineering along Taft Ave. the morning of Marko’s crash was pivotal to his injuries.
Safety engineering (or re-engineering) is a more permanent solution. Structural changes to the whole carriageway to include motorcycle and bicycle lanes, sidewalks of proper width that are free from obstructions and road shoulders to load and unload passengers. Temporary changes must also be both scientific and standardized and as in road detours and changes in traffic flow during events like constructions, refurbishments and even closures for pedestrian traffic only.
This means elevating the condition of the road into a three-star or better system that will allow for safer driving in all conditions and a higher level of safety for all road users.
The International Road Assessment Programme or iRAP assesses roads all over the world and aims to significantly reduce road casualties by improving the safety of road infrastructure. In the Philippines it cooperates with the Automobile Association of the Philippines.
At Safety 2018 iRAP CEO Rob McInerney spoke to Filipino journalists at length about the way roads should be constructed and configured to consider all road users.
"In the Philippines there are specific interventions on your roads, like Commonwealth Ave. for example, which has seen a reduction of deaths and injuries after the speed limit was reduced and barriers installed to encourage pedestrians to use the elevated walkways," McInerney explained.
There is more work to be done in the country which depends a lot on the commitment of all the stakeholders he said indicating that we have all the rules necessary to be safer on the roads.
"Appropriate laws and good enforcement are part of the ecosystem of safety. It's not just about laws and how they are enforced, it about laws and why they are needed. People should know why," he elucidated.
“Aside from achieving better road safety by elevating roads to a minimum of 3-stars, achieving Vision Zero is our long term goal,” McInerney said as he explained how 68 percent of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050.
He also said that with the advent of new technologies such as self driving cars, big data, and smart technologies for navigation must be put into use to save lives and cut serious injury. This global innovation is part of the organization’s overall strategy.
Safety 2018 brought together over 1000 of the world's leading researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and activists to share information and experiences and to discuss solutions under the theme is “advancing injury and violence prevention towards SDGs.”
This story was made possible with support from the ICFJ-WHO Safety 2018 Reporting Fellowship Program and Bloomberg Philanthropies
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BANGKOK, Thailand (November 7, 2018)—The lack of organized, useful and relevant data is one of the major causes why the Philippines' continues to have many unsafe roads. Bad road engineering, poor emergency response, lax enforcement and lack of research in policy creation all root from the inavailability of good data, its processing and analysis.
“It is definitely important that improvements in road safety not only be based on observations alone but on analysis of incidents. When and where it occurs. What causes it. What is the physical or mental condition of who is involved in it. What was the weather when it happened? Where was the location? All these are necessary to really determine how a road crash happened,” Dr. Etienne Krug, Director, Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention at the World Health Organization (WHO) commented. The WHO is the key proponent of Safety 2018.
“Injuries and fatalities that result from a road crash can always be prevented,” Krug emphasizes as he refers back to the conference theme of “advancing injury and violence prevention towards Sustainable Development Goals.”
The use of big data in road safety was one of the key responses discussed heavily at the 13th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion (Safety 2018) held recently in Bangkok. The WHO pivots on big data for the all road safety projects it assists.
One example of a WHO-assisted road safety project is iRAP (International Road Assessment Programme). iRAP’s aim is to create safer roads starting off with a minimum "3-star road" standards in as many locations as possible to the safest possible "5-star road" rating. The 3-star road begins with recommended technical standards for all road users is applied, while the five star road considers all the factors that make the entire length of a carriageway safe for all users who share the space.
The organization has many made many powerful tools like Risk Mapping, Star Rating, Safer Roads Investment Plans and Policy and Performance Tracking. All built on a robust, big-data sourced, evidence-based platform to come up with plans and recommendations to help its partners across the world create safer streets using a 5-star ranking method. The Philippines is included in its study and data map called the iRAP Big Data Tool.
“Indeed good data is necessary in making good decisions. There are 1.25 million deaths and 30 to 50 million injuries every year around the world. A deep analysis is required so that urgent action can be made to deliver safer roads. At iRAP we know that travelling on roads that take into consideration the needs of all road users will save lives and reduce injuries. What we want to do, with the cooperation of our partners in every country we are in is ensuring all new roads are built to at least a 3-star standard and existing roads are upgraded so that at least 75 percent of travel is done on 3-star or better roads,” Rob McInerney, Chief Executive Officer of the London-based iRAP said as he mentioned that during his visit to the Philippines, his group pointed out to its local partners about the poor quality of available data.
Even if data is collected and recorded correctly, the fact that it is conflicting and not corraborative makes this data inaccurate, irrelevant and therefore useless. For example, death reports from the official Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) tally differs from that provided by the Department of Health (DOH). And data gathered from the police or local government units are even more imprecise because of the way the deaths are recorded.
In the most recent Metro Manila Accident Recording and Analysis System (MMARAS) reports released by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in 2016, some 411 cases of road crash related fatalities were simply listed as “no accident factor” based on the what the police blotter recorded.
"Low quality data, is no data at all," McInerney said.
“The target of the World Bank is to reduce by half the number of deaths in the Philippines and in Thailand by 2020. This could add add 2 to 7 percent annually in the GDP of these countries over a period of 24 years,” Dr. Nhan Tran, Coordinator, Unintentional Injury Prevention at the WHO said speaking to journalists at the media workshop of theInternational Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in preparation for the opening of Safety 2018 conference.
Tran also said there is an almost direct proportion between socio-economic development and the quality of reporting in many countries. His example cited data from the Philippines where he pointed out a abrupt rise in road crashes from 2015 to 2018—a variance of nearly 8,500 cases. He said that though this may be an indication that there were actually more road crashes that occured, it can also be seen as an improvement in the way data was collected and reported. This final reason for this increase will be revealed in December this year, when the WHO will release the latest Global Road Safety Report, last issued in 2015.
“There really is a need to improve the way data is gathered in the Philippines so that proper solutions can be given,” Tran concludes. He also stressed the role of the WHO as a collaborator and partner to many countries, is one that will help researchers, academicians, activists and policy-makers craft solutions from precise and well-processed information.
Road safety is a major public health burden across the globe.
Without analysis provided by good data that can impact sustained action, road traffic crashes are predicted to become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030 globally. In the Philippines over 55 percent of deaths on the road happen because of a crash between a motorycle and a vehicle with 4 wheels or more. Injuries resulting from crashes are the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 29 years.
In his keynote to open the safety conference, Dr. Krug congratulated the Philippines for the approval of Senate Bill 1971 or the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act. More than 600 children died road crash incidents on average, between 2006 to 2015. The Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act is considered landmark legislation in a country where unrestrained children are allowed to move about inside a vehicle that is in motion or sit on laps and dangerously hang on to handrails in jeepneys. Infants and small children need a more specific type of car seat to protect them in case of a road mishap. Proponents of the new law said that it had used a "good amount of data" to understand Filipino driving habits with children to correctly develop policies to address safety concerns.
This story was made possible with support from the ICFJ-WHO Safety 2018 Reporting Fellowship Program and Bloomberg Philanthropies
Early this November, select journalists from 12 countries (2 from the Philippines) were invited to Bangkok for a fellowship of the prestigious International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in preparation for the Safety 2108 conference (13th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion).
Part of the output of that conference is a series of articles on various aspects of safety.
This is my report number one.