The Philippine government, through its various agencies that form the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has been firm on its stance against backriding (riding pillion) on motorcycles. Not only does it goes against their prescribed physical distancing protocols, it is also going to be an “enforcement nightmare” should it would be allowed even for couples who share the same household. President Rodrigo Duterte himself has echoed the IATF’s sentiments last week and even said that “The law is hard but it is the law.”
Last week, Bohol governor, Arthur Yap, proposed the installation of a hard plastic shield between the motorcycle rider and passenger. This barrier would act in a similar way to those plastic barriers separating commuters in public utility vehicles and TNVS. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary, Eduardo Año, welcomed the idea but has stressed that the proposal will be subject to the strict scrutiny of the IATF.
This idea is not new. In fact, in Indonesia, motorcycle taxi riders have equipped a similar plastic shield, but strapped to their backs. From what it looks like from the photos, our version is taller than what the Indonesians use. The Filipino design has a grab bar with grips for the pillion to hold.
Is it safe?
The proposal may have good intentions, but unfortunately, it might also be dangerous. MotoPinas.com asked two professionals in the field of motorcycle riding safety — Jake Swann, a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) coach, and riding coach, Mel Aquino, of Mel Aguino’s Yamaha Offroad Training Camp — what they think of the device.
Passengers of this jeepney, are only separated by a thin plastic material similar to the one used to cover children's notebooks
“Basically, the back rider should always wrap the waist of the rider,” said riding coach, Mel Aquino. He further explained that, as a matter of safety, both the rider and his or her pillion should act as one during the entire ride. If the pillion, for example, doesn’t lean with the rider, the motorcycle may become unstable and eventually lead to the rider losing control of the bike.
“The rider should always be in control with the bike. If the backrider will not cooperate with the motion of the rider, any sudden movement will affect the rider’s control. The pillion greatly affects the weight distribution of the motorcycle.”
Aquino further added that the hard plastic divider could act as a sail catching air and creating resistance. Any sudden gust of wind could cause the rider to lose his control of the bike. He countered that, if riding slow, it should not be a problem.
Jake Swann, for his part, has also expressed concern. “They require people to wear a face mask, under a motorcycle helmet, which will probably have a face shield already and then they add this? It's paranoid overkill.”
Swann noted that, despite being restricted to one passenger, riding may be safer for two passengers because both are exposed to the open air. “These are the same people who considered 4 people wearing masks riding in a car with a closed re-circulating atmosphere safe when it's the air current that will carry the virus suspended in the air to infect everyone in the car.”
He did however point out that it is still better than nothing. The plastic barrier provides the riding public with a better option than risking it on public utility vehicles with reduced capacity and barriers.
Both riding coaches hope that the government will consult credible experts on the subject or members of the riding community before enacting protocols or laws that affect the general riding population.