Driving under the influence

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013


THE driver was drunk. Two passengers, who were interviewed in their hospital beds by TV5 Aksyon Bisaya’s Andrea Patena, showed no hesitation in describing Erwin Gerson’s condition at the time that he was on the wheels of the Ceres bus that fell on its side while negotiating a curve in the southwestern town of Badian.

They had bruises to show for their horrifying experience, but were otherwise lucky.

Not so blessed were Gerson’s wife and five-year-old child who both perished in the accident.

I expect the bus company’s lawyers to quibble that while the driver may have tested positive for alcohol, he was not, in fact, drunk. Republic Act 10586, which President Aquino signed only on May 27, this year, says that for a driver to be considered driving under the influence of alcohol, his blood alcohol concentration level should be shown through a breath analyzer test to have reached the level of intoxication as jointly established by the Department of Health, the National Police Commission and the Department of Transportation and Communication.

RA 10586 also requires every applicant for a driver’s license to complete a “course of instruction” on safe driving, including “the effects of the consumption of alcoholic beverages on the ability of a person to operate a motor vehicle, the hazards of driving under the influence of alcohol, dangerous drugs and other similar substances” and the penalties for driving under the influence or DUI.

I do not know whether the DOH, the Napolcom and the DOTC have already established the
standards of intoxication and whether or not the Land Transportation Office has already implemented the driver’s education requirement before one can secure a driver’s license.

What I do know is that someone driving a Ceres passenger bus was tested positive for alcohol content and that his own wife and kid died instantaneously when his vehicle figured in an accident.

I applaud the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board for acting swiftly on the tragedy by suspending for 30 days the operation of 10 Ceres buses that are covered by the same franchise that allowed the use of the Gerson-driven bus in the business of carriage. The LTFRB has also commenced investigation of the accident.

The first day of the LTFRB investigation, however, failed to establish anything substantial as Vallacar Transit Corporation, which operates the Ceres buses, chose not to present its version of the accident. Some people may consider this as indicative of a lack of good faith or, at the very least, cooperation from the bus operator.

I think that the company was just being prudent and for good reason. Section 13 of RA 10586 renders the owner and operator of the motor vehicle “directly and principally liable, together with the offender for the fine and award against the offender for civil damages” in favor of the victims.

The same law, however, says that the owner or operator can escape liability by proving “convincingly” that it has exercised extraordinary diligence in the selection and supervision of its drivers, including the offender.

But we are assuming that the case will eventually reach the courts. I seriously doubt that. The company, through its insurers, will settle with the victims so that even if the police files criminal charges against Gerson, there is little chance for a successful prosecution if the witnesses have been silenced.

That leaves the LTFRB investigation as the only the chance for the public to know what really happened and perhaps, help them make what could be a life or death decision of which buses to take and which ones to avoid.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 19, 2013.

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