Published: 11 May 2021
1. Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
2. The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2021 is a Bill containing proposals from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Transport (MOT).
3. I will speak first on MHA’s proposals, which achieve three objectives. Firstly, to raise the penalties for some offences. Secondly, to implement a theory test for the use of Power Assisted Bicycles (PABs) on roads, and thirdly, to enhance Traffic Police’s operational efficiency.
4. Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State, will cover MOT’s proposals to strengthen the land transport system – namely in the areas of autonomous vehicle trials, re-imposition of vehicle taxes, and security searches of commuters using our public transport system.
5. Let me start with some background on MHA’s proposals.
6. Our roads have become safer over the years. From 2010 to 2019, the annual number of traffic fatalities has dropped by close to 40 per cent, from 193 fatalities in 2010 to 118 fatalities in 2019. The number of fatalities decreased further to 85 in 2020, although this was partly due to the COVID-19 situation, when there was less traffic, especially during the Circuit Breaker period.
7. Traffic Police (TP) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) have taken steps to improve road safety. First, TP stepped up public education efforts to get motorists to drive safely. TP also conducts targeted public education for vulnerable road users, such as motorcyclists and elderly pedestrians. Second, TP also stepped up enforcement and expanded its enforcement camera network to improve detection. In 2020, TP installed 12 more red light cameras. There are now close to 300 traffic enforcement cameras deployed to detect and deter speeding and red light running. Third, raising penalties to deter irresponsible driving behaviour. In 2019, TP increased the amount of composition sums it offers for all traffic offences. The maximum jail terms and fines for serious traffic offences, such as dangerous driving and driving under influence, were also raised in the 2019 Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill. Fourth, LTA has installed infrastructure to make our roads safer. This includes School Zones and Silver Zones with lower speed limits, and features to slow traffic.
8. I would like to emphasise that the improvements in road safety are not only due to TP’s or LTA’s efforts. Road safety is a shared responsibility between drivers of motor vehicles, users of Active Mobility devices and pedestrians. I would like to thank everyone for being gracious and responsible road users.
9. Notwithstanding that our roads have become safer, we have identified a few other areas where road safety can be improved.
#1 – Raise penalties for some offences
A – Illegal Speed Trials
10. Let me start with illegal speed trials.
11. They seriously endanger lives. During these trials, racers far exceed the speed limit. They also exhibit other dangerous behaviours, such as swerving in and out of lanes suddenly and without warning. In December 2018, Police arrested five drivers for their suspected involvement in a case of dangerous driving and illegal racing along Lim Chu Kang Road. They raced at speeds averaging at least 110km/h along a stretch of road which has a speed limit of only 70km/h. They were racing while there were other users on the roads. The consequences of an accident between them and these other innocent road users could have been devastating.
12. Illegal speed trials have become a concern. From 2015 to 2017, 10 persons were convicted of this offence. From 2018 to 2020, TP arrested 31 persons for illegal speed trials. This is a stark increase compared to the previous three years.
13. To increase deterrence, Clause 22 increases the maximum jail terms and fines for taking part in or promoting illegal speed trials. This aligns the penalties for illegal speed trials with those for offences of similar severity, such as dangerous driving endangering life.
14. That said, we recognise that offenders taking part in speed trials do not necessarily use their own vehicles. For vehicles used in illegal speed trials, the court is required to order the vehicle to be forfeited under section 117 RTA, if the Public Prosecutor makes a written application for forfeiture. Clause 23 amends the forfeiture regime so that forfeiture is not automatic. Under the amended section 117, the Court need not make an order for the forfeiture of the vehicle if the Court is satisfied that firstly, the person who committed the illegal speed trial offence was not the owner of the vehicle, and secondly, the person had used the vehicle without the owner’s consent. This is fairer and better in line with other egregious RTA offences such as dangerous driving causing death, where vehicle forfeiture is not mandatory.
B – Helmet-related offences
15. Next, are offences relating to protective helmets worn by motorcyclists and pillion riders.
16. Helmets are a key safety feature for motorcyclists and pillion riders, just like seatbelts for drivers and passengers in cars.
17. Currently, it is an offence for pillion riders to not wear an approved helmet. There is no present duty on the motorcyclist to see to this. Clause 19 will now make it an offence for the motorcyclist, who fails to ensure that his or her pillion rider wears an approved helmet. This mirrors the duty that we place on drivers of other motor vehicles like cars to ensure that their passengers are wearing seat belts.
18. Clause 19 further raises the maximum jail terms and fines for the existing offence of importing or selling unapproved helmet models. They will be aligned with the penalties for not wearing approved helmets.
C – Individuals who obstruct, prevent or defeat the course of justice
19. Next, the Bill also deals with individuals who obstruct, prevent or defeat the course of justice in road traffic incidents.
20. A vehicle owner has an obligation to provide information about the offending motorist when the owner’s vehicle has been detected to be involved in an offence under the RTA or any of its rules. TP has encountered cases where the owner and offender-driver collude with another person to falsely declare to TP that another person was instead driving at the time of the commission of the offence.
21. Individuals involved in such schemes deserve to be more severely punished. Clause 20 creates a new offence aimed at individuals who conspire to mislead the authorities. For the owner or offender-driver who causes or permits to provide false or misleading information; or intentionally alter, suppress or destroy information that identifies the offender-driver. Secondly, for those who pretend to be the offender-driver.
22. The maximum jail terms and fines for these offences will be higher than the penalties for the existing offence of willfully or recklessly furnishing false or misleading information. This more appropriately reflects the severity for the offences.
D – Road rage offences
23. Next, road rage offences.
24. Under existing law, the Courts can disqualify a motorist from driving if the motorist commits certain Penal Code offences in the context of a road rage situation. Examples of such offences include voluntarily causing hurt and causing death by rash or negligent act.
25. Clause 13 expands the list of offences in section 42 to include any offence under any written law, instead of limiting the provision to a list of prescribed Penal Code offences. This is because there are offences that were previously not in the list, but may be committed in a road rage situation, such as criminal intimidation. This approach gives the Court greater discretion to impose disqualification in appropriate cases, to better punish and deter road rage behaviour.
#2 – Theory Test for Use of PABs on roads
26. I will now speak about the introduction of a theory test for the use of Power Assisted Bicycles or PABs on roads.
27. The Active Mobility (Amendment) Bill was passed by Parliament on 4 February 2020 to require riders of Personal Mobility Devices and PABs to pass a theory test before they can ride on public paths. As PABs are allowed on both public paths and roads, it is only logical that we need to require PAB riders to pass a theory test before they can ride on roads. Clause 15 gives effect to this. I highlight two main aspects of the amendments and how we intend to operationalise them. Firstly, PAB riders will only be required to undergo a single theory test, before they can ride on either public paths or roads. This theory test will be administered by LTA. The theory test handbook can be found on LTA’s website. More details of the test will be released in June. The theory test will comprise modules on both path and road safety. It will educate PAB riders on active mobility rules, road traffic regulations, the code of conduct, and safe riding behaviour.
28. The new section 47G makes it an offence to ride a PAB on any road without having passed the theory test. Under the new section 47K, it will also be an offence to employ, or intentionally or negligently allow a rider to ride a PAB on a road, if the rider has not passed the theory test. This mirrors existing offences in the Active Mobility Act for the usage of PABs on shared paths.
#3 – Enhancing Traffic Police’s Operational Efficiency
29. I will now move on to the third objective of the Bill, which is to enhance TP’s operational efficiency.
A – Enhance record-keeping regime
30. First, to improve detection of traffic offenders, clause 20 introduces more reporting requirements for companies that own vehicles.
31. When a company’s vehicle is detected to be used in a traffic offence and the motorist is unidentified, TP relies on the company owner to provide information to identify the motorist. However, TP has encountered uncooperative companies. First, some companies only get back to TP after being issued with numerous reminders, while others do not get back to TP at all. This hampers TP’s ability to take to task motorists who commit traffic offences.
32. To ensure that companies provide TP with information to identify offender-motorists in a timely manner, section 81 is proposed to be amended to require companies to designate a “responsible officer” to see to the timely reporting. For companies, the responsible officer will be someone holding the post of chairperson, managing director or company secretary, or any position that is analogous to these offices. The responsible officer will have the duty to ensure that the company keeps proper records of motorists who use the company’s vehicles. If the company fails to provide information to TP to identify the motorist who had used the company’s vehicle, the responsible officer may be held personally liable. This approach will help to ensure that records are properly kept, and the company promptly provides the necessary information to TP.
33. We will increase the period for which companies are required to keep records of the motorists who drive their vehicles, from six months to one year. Some cases are highly complex and require extensive investigations, such as those involving multiple parties or where video footage is not readily available.
B – Streamline process to empower TP officers to cancel notices to attend Court
34. Next, we will streamline the process of empowering TP officers to cancel notices to attend court. Today, to empower a TP officer to cancel an accused’s notice to attend court, Police must first publish the TP officer’s name in the Gazette. This is cumbersome and hampers operational efficiency, as the list will need to be updated whenever there is staff movement. Clause 26 removes the requirements to publish in the Gazette, the name of each TP officer so empowered. TP officers will continue to be empowered through appointment by the Deputy Commissioner of Police.
C – Repeal obsolete provisions
35. We will repeal two obsolete provisions.
36. Clause 12 removes the provision that empowers TP to require vocational drivers to report to them and produce their fingerprints. This provision is obsolete, as TP already has the power to compel any person, including vocational drivers, to report to TP and identify themselves.
37. Clause 25 removes the provisions pertaining to the ticketing of traffic offences. This provision is obsolete, as TP no longer issues on-the-spot tickets and compounds all traffic offences that are not prosecuted in court.
38. Mr Speaker, while the safety on roads has improved, we cannot be complacent.
39. This Bill is necessary to help make our roads even safer, by enhancing our measures against irresponsible behaviour and enacting the regulations for PAB riders.
40. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.