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31 July 2012

Total Drive City: Conquering Manila one stoplight at a time

Words by Jose Carlo R. Sapera | Photos by Leslie Sy
I've been driving for more than 10 years now, and my friends and loved ones always remind me to drive safely at all times. Though it might be more fun in the Philippines, it doesn't take an expert to know that the accident rate in our country is pretty high. According to the Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG), there were a total of 1,833 people killed and 29,000 people injured in more than 85,000 road accidents last year. The numbers speak for themselves. Road accidents is a big problem in the Philippines, and it needs to be addressed quickly. 
That's why last July, Total Philippines Corporation gathered people together from the different sectors of society to help raise awareness in road safety. Called Total Drive City, we were asked to drive around the streets of the Metro and prove just how safe of a driver we really were. Participants for the day-long event included the Philippine National Police (PNP), members from the motoring media, driving schools, car manufacturers, car dealers, and private car owners.
Road to safety
Before we were let loose on the streets, we were briefed by race car driver and road safety advocate, Georges Ramirez. As we found out, we were divided into groups and mixed together with other participants to make things more interesting. Each pair was given a handbook that contained a route map, trivia questions, instructions, and special tasks that needed to be completed. Accompanied by a judge, we were then rated on how we perform lane changes, u-turns, intersection x-box crossings, overtaking, and dealing with emergencies and other road distractions.
I was assigned to a beautiful blue Hyundai Elantra 1.6 AT with my co-driver and navigator, Julio “July” Narvaez, Safety Officer of Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP). Though the car might be brand-new, we followed the BLOW-BAG system (Brakes, Lights, Oil, Water, Battery, Air, and Gas) to assure the vehicle's roadworthiness, which is something all car owners should do on a regular basis. 
On the run
When the green flag was raised, my partner and I scooted over to the first stop at the Total Gas Station in Resorts Worlds Manila. There, we checked the pressure of all four tires before taking off. Then, we headed to the next checkpoint at Total Gas Sation in Tramo, Pasay City, followed by Total Libis where we needed to park the Elantra properly into a tight parking spot. And before we could even take a breather, our next task required us to count all the fire extinguishers on the filling bays and familiarize ourselves with Total's lubricant line-up. We then handed over our booklet to the marshal who directed us to our fourth checkpoint at Total Greenhills.
En route, an ambulance, with its sirens blaring, suddenly appeared behind us as we approached the intersection of Ortigas Ave. and C5. As all drivers should, we pulled over and allowed the ambulance to pass us. But here's the twist. After it overtook us, the ambulance made a turn at the u-turn slot and turned off its sirens. Only then did we realize that it was part of the challenge - a challenge we surely passed.
I switched places with July upon reaching Total Greenhills. Now, it was his turn to take the wheel and take control. We took off for our last stop of the day in Total Alabang before heading back to The Fort where we started. And to end the challenge with a bang, we had to go through a specially laid-out Gymkhana riddled with fast curves, sharp corners, and very tight spaces. Thankfully, July did an awesome job and finished the course without hitting a single cone. Whew!
Winners in our own right
After spending half a day driving around the streets of Metro Manila, July and I were ecstatic to have not only finished Total's Drive City challenge, but passed it with flying colors. Though we didn't bring home the bacon, we were happy just to know that we are safe drivers. Who won, however, were  SPO1 Jerry Atanacio of PNP-HPG and Bembol Ricio of SMART Driving School in third place, Jake Flores of Autohub and PO3 Ricardo Capili of PNP-HPG in second, and Albert Joseph F. Concepcion (CAMPI) and Ronald Alan M. Canicosa of Toyota Motor Philippines in first.
As we've learned from the Total Drive City challenge, road safety should be everyone's concern. Unfortunately for us, most of the local drivers believe in the “bahala na” or “ok lang ‘yan” attitude and are unaware of the horrifying consequences of their actions. We wish that, even if there are no watchdogs around, all drivers would obey traffic laws and be responsible on the road. So besides educating drivers, the bigger challenge today is changing our attitude behind the wheel.
Big things start from small beginnings. If all road users will value road safety by heart, our streets will surely be much, much safer and be much more enjoyable to use.