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“Cancel all existing driver’s licenses. Yes, start from scratch…Assume and accept that the old licensing system, despite how glowing it was on paper, was never implemented correctly”

Dear LTO,

Last week, motorists woke up to news reports that mentioned drivers who have clean records, or no violations, will be entitled to the “premium” driver’s license cards which will have a validity of 10 years.

At first, I was aghast at the press release which motoring websites and even lifestyle bloggers broadcasted. The information from the presser of LTO Chief Assistant Secretary Edgar Galvante mentioned that the 10-year validity of driver’s licenses “aims to incentivize those who strictly obey traffic laws.” And this is where I believe we have a problem.

As a motorist who drives to and from work, enduring hours of traffic every day, and suffering from the stress induced by undisciplined drivers and riders who lack common road courtesy, or worse, willfully violate road rules just to be ahead of others, it is difficult to comprehend why your agency will even offer this option. Well-meaning as it may be, I believe the agency is missing the point when it announced the new licensing guidelines’ impending implementation by October next year.

The LTO’s very own Memorandum Circular No. 2020-2134 states as its premise that “road crashes remain to be one of the leading causes of death in the country, in 2018 alone, it was the top cause of death among youths age 5 to 29.” It further adds that in the same year, there were 10,674 road crash fatalities. This number increased to 12,866 in 2019, or about 31 to 34 persons a day, according to the same memo. To put it into perspective, these annual numbers are more than the deaths we have had so far with Covid-19. And yet, we have not seen the implementation of any measure that is even remotely draconian as our community quarantines have turned out to be.

You see, the actual problem is what is on the road, today… right now. Thousands of unqualified, ill-trained, and undisciplined drivers. Drivers who do not obey road rules, lane markings and even traffic signals because they know they can get away with it. And drivers who flout the most basic of laws and guidelines because of a misplaced belief that rules are for sissies and they know better.

In short, it is the mob of the unruly and uneducated that is lording our streets. And the decent ones, those who would stop for a red traffic light at 12 midnight even when there is no MMDA traffic enforcer waiting at the other end of the intersection, they are the ones suffering.

While the LTO is bound by Republic Act 10930, the law that amends the Land Transportation and Traffic Code to allow the extension of the validity of driver’s licenses, perhaps it should give some more thought on how this will be implemented.

Granted, the LTO now requires the completion of a 15-hour theoretical driving course seminar from the LTO or its accredited driving schools prior to being granted a student permit. Fine. So, you have managed to do away with 17-year-olds learning the ways of the road from their dads, uncles or family drivers.

You have also managed to inject an 8-hour driving lesson certification before a student driver is able to convert his or her permit into an actual non-professional license. Great!

On top of all that, you still require a written exam and a practical driving test as part of the requirements in getting a driver’s license.

But driving seminars, driving courses, written exams and practical driving tests have always been part of the process of any decent driving license aspirant. And yet we still had the death numbers your memorandum stated above.

The point is this, with so many drivers on the road now, many of whom presumably were able to satisfy the prerequisites above, why is driving in the Philippines still nowhere as safe as it should be? And here we are, extending the driver’s license validity first from 3 to 5 years, and soon, for those who have spotless records, 10 years. Are we not acknowledging the big white elephant in the room?

The fact is, that many drivers should not even be on the road in the first place. Had those self-serving, LTO-praising seminars, pre-answered examinations pretending to be reviewers, and practical tests which involved merely the moving forward and reverse of car in a parking lot been at all effective in qualifying who should be deserving of a driver’s license, then perhaps we would not be in this predicament. Obviously, they were not.

So, here is my proposal. Something that is not entirely new. Perhaps your kind agency has heard of it before. But certainly, harsh and severe, as a solution to a very grave problem should be.

Cancel all existing driver’s licenses. Yes, start from scratch.

Assume and accept that the old licensing system, despite how glowing it was on paper, was never implemented correctly. A bitter pill to swallow? Certainly. But to solve a problem, you first need to acknowledge it exists.

You can do this in batches. Either alphabetically by the holder’s last name, or even by year of birth. Your call. But all current licenses must be revoked. Every driver should then undergo an updated road rules seminar or class with your latest handbook, either live or online. They should know every road rule, traffic sign, and common courtesy stipulation by heart. And before they get a license, each should take a time-based, online or computerized exam with random questioning. No more reviewers and handouts. The passing rate should be raised from 30 out of 40, to 35 out of 40 for non-professional license holders.

For professional drivers, passing should be 55 correct answers out of 60 items instead of what is now just 45. They should be held to a much higher standard as it is their job to operate larger, heavier vehicles as well as to transport people. The lives of many are basically in their hands.

And despite the new law allowing for a 10-year validity for driver’s licenses, I also propose that every three years, all drivers should take an online refresher course and exam to keep them abreast of the latest LTO guidelines. The tests of course will have to be updated every year. And since everything will be online, the submission will be in real time as well. If a driver fails to pass the online test, he can have two more chances in the next two months. If he still fails, then you can revoke his license and we will have one less unqualified driver wreaking havoc on the road.

With all the available technology at your office’s disposal – RFID, chip cards, card readers, demerit tracking, the live cancellation of future licenses should be easy. Even ATM cards and credit cards can be disabled in an instant. And if you really want the whole system to be hard-working, why not fully integrate the LTO-issued license with the National ID network? We have been using the driver’s license as an official government-issued ID for every major transaction for decades anyway. You say you have 32 advanced security features embedded in the new polycarbonate cards already. Give them a purpose and make them worth their while so that they will not become mere decorative fixtures just like those barcodes that led to nowhere on the cards before.

On top of all that, create a massive, long-term information and awareness campaign to be aired online, on print, or even radio and television about how a Filipino driver should behave on the road. Education is a matter of repetition and inculcation of the behavior you want to happen. And this takes years to realize. Instilling fear of being caught for violating rules drivers do not know in the first place is a futile exercise that will only perpetuate the problem.

Your office has the power to effect change the way we have never seen before. I implore you, as a frustrated motorist tired of excuses, quick fixes, and broken promises, do your job. And do it right. For the sake of a weary nation and a disillusioned people.