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Warning signs

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Considering the number of road construction projects sprinkled all over our towns and cities these days, it becomes easy to notice the poor quality and inconsistency of the warning signs and overall traffic management at those sites.

The only warning signs construction sites have in the Philippines are usually ones that are set up just a few meters from the actual work sites. And because no standards are being followed by contractors when it comes to signage, probably because it is not a priority for the Department of Public Works and Highways or the Local Government Unit, whatever signs that exist are mostly DIY, which means they are poorly lit, not very visible, and irregularly placed in most cases.

With so many ongoing construction projects, where it seems that areas that have been recently closed off for supposed repairs have construction crews setting up again within weeks of being “done”, one would think that our public officials would’ve upgraded the way we do things when it comes to making these sites safer for the public.

The first thing that should be standardized are the signs, which should be coherent, highly visible during all weather conditions, and well-lit at night time. What we have instead these days are simply tarps which can say anything from construction, roadworks, stockpile, heavy equipment ahead, hung on makeshift barriers.

We all know that the persistent threats of theft and vandalism makes the deployment of proper signs problematic, because any sign that meets first world standards would probably cost more than just tarps and catch the eye of those petty criminals. But with so much ongoing roadwork, the current method of informing the public of potential road hazards simply sucks and a better solution should be available if only the DPWH, LGU, contractor, and the police would coordinate better to increase the safety of our roads, especially when construction works are ongoing. Signs that are highly visible, with reflective markings instead of cheap tarp printouts, and that are well lit at night time, should be standard equipment for contractors who can afford heavy equipment and even allocate a portion of their profits to expected corruption.

The next thing wrong with roadwork signage in this country is their distance to the work site, which in most cases is usually zero meters or immediate. This means that any vehicle that hits one of their signs will most likely fall into a hole, crash into rubble or heavy equipment, or hit a poor construction worker. If there is a standard distance and location for such roadwork signs, nobody has probably read the rulebook because no one is enforcing the rule. A sign announcing construction work on a public road should properly inform motorists and pedestrians of what’s ahead, while at the same time giving them enough runoff room to maneuver in case they see it too late. Given the quality of our signs, that are low visibility and unlit at night, that wiggle room should be even greater. What we get instead is zero wiggle room.

The lack of proper signage, in terms of the sign itself and placement, points to the lack of a system to ensure the areas around construction works are as safe as possible. That is what we don’t have, and if we were to have one, such a system should involve more than just better signage. One example of such a system is that the signs also indicate the speed limits are adjusted lower when there is roadwork, which is being done in developed countries. Such adjustments ensure that there are less chances of mishaps involving vehicles, pedestrians, or construction crew. However, that cannot apply yet for Filipinos as we don’t enforce speed limits here anyway. If our government ever does get to requiring the proper deployment of such signs, enforcing and adjusting speed limits at the vicinity of construction sites would be a good next step to consider, if we are allowed to wish for nice things.

No matter how normalized it may be now, due to the sheer number of construction sites all around us these days, it doesn’t hide the fact that those are still hazards. The combination of road excavation, heavy equipment, construction activities, with vehicular and pedestrian traffic, should be treated with more concern and respect by our public officials, especially if those activities are in their areas of jurisdiction, and any accidents will affect constituents.

Everyone involved in construction activities on public roads cannot just place their bets and count on liability insurance to bail them out when what should be preventable incidents occur. They should do more than what they are doing now, to make our communities safer. Given that this seemingly never ending cycle of highly profitable road repairs won’t seem to end anytime soon, safety should at least be given more attention.*

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