Yellow Box and counterflow

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Marvin A. Tort


A report, citing records from the Land Transportation Office (LTO), noted that in 2017, the top traffic violations nationwide were the following: Not wearing seatbelt; Failure to wear helmet; No OR/CR on hand; Driving without license; Unregistered/invalid motor vehicle registration; Reckless driving; Obstruction; No spare tire; Axle overloading; Student driver operation motor vehicle without accompanying licensed driver.

In another report, citing figures from the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), covering 2016, the top traffic violations in Metro Manila were the following: Disregarding traffic signs; Obstruction; Unified vehicle volume reduction program; Illegal parking; Stalled vehicle; Loading/unloading in prohibited zone; Truck ban; Reckless driving; and, Motorcycle lane policy.

What I would like to see on these lists in the future, however, are two of what I consider the most annoying infractions that I have observed during daily drives: counterflowing, particularly by motorcycles and bicycles; and failure to keep out of the Yellow Box. I consider these two violations to have a greater negative impact on traffic flow than violations like not wearing a seatbelt or disregarding traffic signs.

My concern, however, is that there seems to be little will or motivation anywhere in Metro Manila for traffic enforcers to strictly implement rules against counterflow or obstructing intersections. And judging from the top 10 lists of LTO and MMDA, this appears to be the case. Despite the fact that these two violations appear to be rampant, daily occurrences. Why?

Counterflowing, I believe, is among the most dangerous infractions an erring motorist can commit. It can easily result in a collision, and, in extreme cases, injury and death. Oncoming traffic is also likely to halt, if not swerve, to avoid a counterflowing vehicle, which can easily result in accidents. Even pedestrians are at great risk from counterflowing traffic.

Yellow Box violations, meanwhile, cause gridlocks and tend to slow if not halt traffic flow. It causes long chain reactions that eventually screw up automated traffic systems. And the damage resulting from box obstructions tend to be difficult to untangle, and will normally require manual intervention by traffic enforcers. Yellow Box violations tend to involve multiple lane obstructions.

Traffic enforcement also appears to be more tolerant of Yellow Box obstructions and counterflowing, particularly from two-wheeled vehicles, during rush hour and heavy traffic situations. But isn’t it precisely during these situations that motorists should be more conscious or rules and more compliant, and that traffic enforcers should be less forgiving?

It has been reported often enough that Metro Manila loses billions of pesos daily in relation to productivity and economic output because of the countless hours spent in traffic gridlocks and considerable delays in the movement of people and goods because of traffic. But, in turn, how much has Metro Manila spent to fix the problem?


In short, are we putting in enough resources to resolve the problem? Excluding the cost of roads and bridges, how much are we spending on traffic management and administration if only to minimize or mitigate economic losses resulting from traffic congestion? If we spend more time and resources going after “seatbelt” violations, how is this helping improve traffic flow?

If we lack resources to further improve traffic management and administration, perhaps with the use of technology, then perhaps we should consider the possibility of “profiting” from the violations? Maybe all traffic penalties and fines collected by MMDA and local government units should be earmarked primarily for technical interventions to improve traffic management.

I have yet to find data to show how much LTO, MMDA, and local government units collect from traffic penalties and fines as well as parking fees. But I am certain that a concerted effort to “collect” particularly from Yellow Box violations and counterflows will yield a significant amount of funds for traffic management.

It’s economics. I believe the costs related to enforcement and apprehension will be far exceeded by the fines to be collected, judging from daily traffic gridlocks. No-contact apprehension can work effectively in this case — all a matter of strategically mounting cameras in key intersections and over lanes where counterflowing are prevalent.

Enforcement will be crucial here. In fact, Yellow Box and counterflow violations are fairly straightforward. If by the time the light turns red the camera shows you are still in the box, then that’s a violation. Or, if you are seen on camera to be on the lane of oncoming traffic, even during a failed attempt to overtake, then you are in violation. Apprehension plus ticket equals fine. All sent by mail.

The problem is, there seems to be little effort to apprehend. Local governments should review their local ordinances versus Yellow Box violations and counterflowing. They should consider investing in no-contact apprehension systems, and channeling more resources to camera-based or technology-based enforcement. A fine of P500 per violation will be a good starting point.

They should learn from the experience of Transport for London, the local government agency responsible for the transport system in Greater London. The agency was reported to have issued in 2015 about £6.5 million worth of penalty charge notices (PCN) for infringements in its box junctions. That’s equivalent to about P423 million in just one year, from Yellow Box violations alone.

Then there are reports that a single Yellow Box junction camera in London’s Fulham made over £12 million in fines over the last seven years. That’s roughly an average of 112 million yearly for just one Yellow Box camera. One can only wonder how much was initially spent to put up that camera, and how much is spent to operate it yearly. But I am sure, Fulham has been earning from it.


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of Businessworld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.