Scores of driving schools have sprung up across the country, but only one teaches drivers how to ‘properly’ step on it

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic accidents are predicted to surpass HIV/AIDS in terms of causing deaths and injuries the world over. In 2004 alone, road traffic accidents amounted to 1.27 million deaths.

The country’s statistics are just as dismal. A 1975-2003 report from the Philippine Health Statistics revealed that there has been an increasing trend in mortality due to accidents. From 19.1 deaths out of 100,000 population in 1975, the mortality rate climbed to 41.9 deaths in 2003. Every year, there are roughly 70,000 road accidents in the country; every day brings close to 200 road accidents, leading to six people dying daily. Today, road traffic crashes are the second leading cause of injury and death for all ages.

The Race to Road Safety

There is evidently a lack of education in road safety in the country. “Chances are people will know more about how to avoid getting AIDS than roadside accidents,” says JP Tuason, a multi-awarded racecar driver who owns and operates Tuason Racing School (TRS), a professional driving education company that started 11 years ago. “Most people do not even know what the speed limit is in EDSA, and when people do not know, they think it’s okay to drive faster than what they should be doing. That’s how you get into accidents.”

While a number of driving schools (A-1, A-Plus and Smart Driving School, among others) address this lack of awareness by offering tried-and-tested modules on defensive driving, proper road safety, and parking procedures, Tuason says that it is a market that’s far from saturated. “We found that less than one percent of the population of drivers in the country have gone to a proper driving school,” he says. “Most drivers get taught by a parent or sibling, and the problem with that is the knowledge their instructors have is just knowledge that’s been passed on from generation to generation. It’s the same with traditional driving schools. What our company tries to do is to bring new technology and driving techniques from Europe and America to teach young drivers to uplift their driving skills.”

After three years of offering advanced courses to aspiring racecar drivers, TRS branched out into everyday driving, specifically advocating road safety. The school has 12 instructors, Tuason included, and all are racecar drivers who encourage students to drive fast in an effort to build confidence behind the wheel, allowing for increased control in emergency and everyday driving situations.

A large part of the company’s road safety projects include working with schools and corporate clients to talk about road safety. In the recent Manila Auto Show at the World Trade Center, TRS teamed up with Ford Motors in holding a public seminar called “Driving Skills For Life” that tackled not only road safety but eco-driving as well. “We organize the program for Ford and execute the module, which is developed locally but with global materials,” Tuason says.

Driver’s Ed, The Vroom Version

Racing and performance schools are thriving in countries like the United States, but here in the Philippines, TRS is the only school that provides programs designed specifically for motor sports. “We’re the only professional driving school in the country,” says Tuason, who hails from a family of racecar drivers (his dad is racing legend Arthur Tuason). “We’re involved in drifting, touring cars, go-karts and formula racing. We have all the equipment, the race gear, and we do the training up in  the circuit in Clark and Batangas.”

What started out as a small outfit that trained people to race on weekends eventually expanded into a thriving business that has successfully trained over 18,000 people in both motor sports and advanced driving. With its fleet of environment-friendly Ford flex fuel vehicles (FFV), the company’s diverse mix of classes attracts motor sports enthusiasts of all ages. Go-karting is a hit especially among kids as young as eight, while adults lean towards TRS’ touring and formula car programs. “Our racing team currently manages drivers as young as 11,” says Tuason, “and on the flip side, we also have drivers in our team that are in their late 30s.”

Contrary to public perception that racing attracts only the younger market, “you’d be surprised because we also have a lot of older guys come in,” Tuason informs. “Motor sports entails a lot of expense; it’s not cheap. And older drivers, some even 50 to 60 years old, get involved in it because they’re the ones with the cash to spend. When they were young, they didn’t get to do it, but now that they’ve got the money, they come in and race cars.”

“Our vision is really to develop motor sports as a career wherein Filipinos can excel internationally,” says Tuason. “Magagaling ang mga racers natin eh (our racers are innately talented). They just need the proper training and venue to be on top of their game.”

Published in Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section. June 14, 2010