No contact apprehension: Can cameras end the traffic mess?

Traffic enforcer interacting with a white vehicle.
No more face-to-face interactions between traffic enforcer and motorist with the new program in place in certain Metro Manila cities. —PHOTO FROM

Have you ever opened your mail and found a notice of violation (NOV) jolting you with a fine of P2,000, or even P4,000? Your immediate reaction might well be “What the [expletive]!”—and understandably so. But then you’ll realize that the attached digital image of a vehicle shown, supposedly, running a red light or making an illegal turn is in fact yours. Very soon, you’ll be joining a growing number of motorists hassled by the no contact apprehension program (NCAP) that cities in Metro Manila are now employing on some of their major intersections.

This month Quezon City is the latest in Metro Manila to adopt the NCAP, after Parañaque in March 2018, Valenzuela in September 2019, and Manila in December 2020.

This system is operated by a 24/7 command center (one for each city) that controls dozens of high-resolution closed-circuit television cameras that are scattered across each city’s jurisdiction. Through these CCTVs, traffic violators are video recorded and photographed, and their plate numbers tagged for the corresponding traffic violation.

In Quezon City, be very attentive when driving along Quirino Highway especially since cameras are now installed at the intersections of Susano Road (Novaliches Bayan), Zabarte Road, and Tandang Sora (Sangandaan). There are also cameras along E. Rodriguez, particularly at the intersections of Tomas Morato, Gilmore, and Hemady streets.

On Aurora Boulevard, there are four intersections that you should be paying close attention to: Hemady, Gilmore, Broadway and 20th street. Along P. Tuazon, be mindful on 13th and 14th streets.

The intersections of West Avenue and Baler, East Avenue and BIR, and Kamias and Kalayaan are also monitored by cameras.

Wide support

The NCAP is gradually gaining wide support among local officials as a proven method of reducing collisions and enforcing traffic laws, freeing traffic officers to respond to more serious crimes. 

In Manila, for example, the city’s Traffic and Parking Bureau has observed a decrease of 25-31 percent in traffic violation citations during the first half of 2021, proving that drivers do modify their behavior when there are cameras around.

The absence of face-to-face interaction between traffic enforcer and driver also means no more arguments and excuses that often lead to the incidence of bribery, if not physical aggression. It’s also appropriate during this Covid-19 pandemic that appears to be making a resurgence.

But there’s also the expected blowback from drivers who will claim the intrusion of Big Brother and protest the sudden shift of the burden of proof (it used to be the traffic enforcer who must prove the motorist’s guilt).

Tricky option

In Quezon City, those who want to contest their NOV may file an appeal to the QC Traffic Adjudication Board within 10 days from receipt of the notice. This option is especially tricky for the driver who does not receive his or her NOV within 14 days. 

If the NOV is mailed weeks or months after the occurrence of the violation—a big possibility if you are not a Quezon City resident—the driver has the burden of providing pertinent details, recalling what he or she was doing or what was happening at the time of the purported violation, and reconstructing the scene.

This is equally hard for the registered owner of the vehicle who may not have been the one behind the wheel at the time of the violation. It can be incredibly difficult to explain to the adjudicator because the cameras are generally aimed at the rear of the vehicle, in order to capture its license plate, and often do not record the driver’s face with sufficient detail for positive identification.

For Quezon City residents, an option is to regularly look up to check if one’s vehicle has been tagged with a violation, and if so, to immediately recall the circumstances and keep these notes until the arrival of the NOV in the mail.

A monthly penalty of 5 percent surcharge against violators for NOVs that remain unpaid beyond the 30-day period will be imposed. Considering that the original fine is already steep—P2,000 for the first offense, for one type of violation—such a surcharge could mean thousands of pesos for the driver or vehicle owner.

Motorists who have been fined rightly point out that road safety is not an enterprise to be milked for revenue. And then there’s one grating fact: The only possible target of the CCTVs are vehicles with plate numbers or conduction stickers, which means motorcycles and tricycles—whose drivers are quite regular traffic violators—are often spared because a lot of them have no identifiable marks.

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