Published: 11 May 2021
1. Mr Speaker, I thank the members for their support of the Bill.
2. SMS Amy Khor has addressed the questions relating to areas under MOT’s purview. This includes questions on Power-Assisted Bicycles (PABs).
3. I will now address those under MHA’s purview.
4. Members have raised questions in three areas. First, on MHA’s proposals to raise penalties for offences related to illegal speed trials, helmets, individuals who obstruct, prevent or defeat the course of justice, and road rage. Second, on MHA’s proposals to enhance TP’s operational efficiency, and third, on enforcement and other matters.
#1 – MHA’s proposals to raise penalties for offences related to illegal speed trails, helmets and road rage
Illegal speed trials
5. First, let me address members’ questions on the raising of penalties.
6. On the vehicle forfeiture regime for illegal speed trials, Mr Murali Pillai asked about the reason for making the vehicle forfeiture regime for illegal speed trials non-mandatory. I’d like to share with you that the intent of moving towards a non-mandatory regime is to balance deterrence and fairness. While we want to deter persons from taking part in illegal speed trials through vehicle forfeiture, we also have to be fair to owners who did not consent to the offending driver using their vehicle and were not involved in the illegal speed trial. A non-mandatory forfeiture regime does not mean that offenders get off easy. The Public Prosecutor still retains the power to apply for the forfeiture of a vehicle used in an illegal speed trial. The burden of proof is on the owner to prove, to the satisfaction of the court, that the vehicle was used without his consent. In such situations, we can let the court decide, by looking at all the facts of the case. This also ensures parity with forfeiture for other offences in the RTA and in other Acts. This House would recall that in 2019, we amended the RTA to provide for non-mandatory forfeiture of vehicles involved in the offence of dangerous and careless driving. As another example, under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), if a person is convicted of any offence and if the Public Prosecutor makes an application to forfeit a vehicle, the court shall order the vehicle to be forfeited unless the owner establishes that the vehicle was unlawfully in the possession of another person without the owner’s consent.
7. Mr Murali Pillai also asked about the situation where the owner was wilfully blind. In other words, the owner suspected that his car could be used in an illegal speed trial, but did not ask. As I mentioned earlier, the burden is on the owner to prove to the satisfaction of the court that the vehicle had been used without his consent. In a case where the owner suspected that the offender used his vehicle, and could have asked, but did not, it is up to the court to decide, based on the facts of the case, whether there had been implied consent to the use of the vehicle. If the court finds that there was implied consent, the vehicle would be forfeited.
8. Ms Joan Pereira asked how we would be able to discern genuine cases of owners claiming that they did not provide consent to offending drivers to use their vehicles in illegal speed trials. As part of the investigative process, TP interviews all involved parties separately and procures other relevant evidence, such as video footage. This evidence will be submitted to the court, for the court to decide based on the facts of the case and the arguments from both sides. For non-genuine cases, TP will not hesitate to take action against the persons or anyone who falsely claimed that the offending driver had used the vehicle without the owner’s consent. They may be charged for the offence of providing false or misleading information, and face a jail term, a fine, or both, if found guilty.
9. Ms Sylvia Lim asked if TP would step up enforcement to increase detection of illegal speed trials. As I mentioned in my Opening Speech, TP has stepped up enforcement and expanded its enforcement camera network to improve detection. There are now close to 300 traffic enforcement cameras deployed to detect and deter speeding and red light running. TP will continue to monitor the road safety situation, and assess if there is a need to install more enforcement cameras. TP will also continue to conduct regular enforcement operations at known hotspots, and will mount additional enforcement operations where necessary.
10. Members also asked about helmet-related offences.
11. Regarding the minimum age for child pillion riders, Mr Murali Pillai is correct that the minimum age for pillion riders on motorcycles is 10 years old, while the minimum age for pillion riders on PABs is higher, at 16 years old. Motorcyclists, unlike PAB riders, go through more stringent training and testing before they are allowed to ride their vehicle. As part of the process to obtain a driving licence, motorcyclists will need to take two theory tests, go through a series of riding lessons, before taking their practical test. The training includes a module on how to ride safely with a pillion rider. On the other hand, PAB riders only need to go through a theory test, and do not need to undergo any practical test. The motorcyclist has therefore undergone more training and is better able to handle a motorcycle with a pillion rider compared to the PAB rider.
12. We are conscious of the costs of getting helmets certified, raised by Mr Sharael Taha. The Singapore Motor Cycle Trade Association has also raised this concern. The current standards used to certify motorcycle helmets was formulated in 2014, in consultation with the industry and technical experts, including the Singapore Motor Cycle Trade Association. These are in line with the internationally recognised United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulation Number 22, though we have additional requirements. For example, Singapore’s previous review concluded that it is important to include additional tests such as the penetration test, which tests how easily the helmet’s shell is penetrated when it hits a sharp object such as a fence or a motorcycle footrest.
13. That said, we hear the concerns about the costs of certification. We have to balance against the safety of road users. We will work with the relevant stakeholders to find the right balance.
14. Enforcement and penalties are not enough to ensure road safety. TP will also conduct more public education on the importance of wearing proper helmets. As Ms Joan Pereira pointed out, there are risks in wearing a helmet that does not meet regulatory requirements or is not of the right size.
Individuals who obstruct, prevent or defeat the course of justice
15. Next, on individuals who obstruct, prevent or defeat the course of justice. Ms Sylvia Lim asked why we are increasing the penalties for the offence of furnishing false particulars to TP, especially since we had only done so recently. To clarify, our proposed amendments to section 81 are not just increasing the penalties for the existing offence of furnishing false information. We have broadened the offence to cover individuals who, alone or with others, deliberately mislead TP and prevent the identification of the correct offender-driver. Thus, we increased the fine by two times to reflect the greater seriousness.
Road rage offences
16. Mr Sharael Taha asked what the penalties are for a cyclist exhibiting road rage to a motorist, and whether we can ensure that there are equal consequences for cyclists and motorists.
17. The RTA provides that if a motorist commits an offence such as voluntarily causing hurt while being a driver of a motor vehicle, he is liable for an additional offence of “road rage” and the court may make an order to disqualify the offender from driving, or holding or obtaining a driving licence. This disqualification is on top of the penalties that the motorist may face for the underlying offence. The policy intent of this provision is to prevent motorists who have committed road rage from driving a motor vehicle again, as the behaviour might repeat and cause harm to other motorists. The penalty of disqualification is therefore only applicable to motorists.
18. In the scenario painted by the member, where the cyclist verbally abuses and punches a motorist, the court may not disqualify the cyclist from driving. This is reasonable. The cyclist’s behaviour may not represent his driving behaviour, since he was not driving a motor vehicle at the time of the offence. It may not be possible for the judge to assess whether it is undesirable for the cyclist to be allowed to drive a motor vehicle. Nonetheless, the cyclist will still be liable for the relevant underlying penalty. For example, a cyclist who commits an offence of voluntarily causing hurt in a road rage type of incident will, similar to a motorist, be liable for a penalty of up to imprisonment of 2 years and fine of $5,000.
#2 – MHA’s proposals to enhance TP’s operational efficiency
Enhance record-keeping regime
19. We proposed to amend the RTA to require companies to designate a “responsible officer” to see to the timely reporting of information needed for TP’s investigation of the traffic incident. Mr Murali Pillai asked about the logic of making the chairperson, managing director or company secretary of a company responsible for maintaining a proper record of the vehicle’s usage. He suggested that we can instead require that the board appoints an employee to be the responsible person. The responsibilities of the chairperson, managing director or company secretary would then be discharged once the appointment is made. To clarify, this provision does not require the chairperson, managing director or company secretary to actually carry out the record keeping personally. Instead, they are to ensure the keeping of such records. Ensuring that records are properly kept, so that investigations into a traffic incident can be conducted promptly, is very important. We want the company to take this seriously and actively take steps toward this end, by designating its Chairman, Managing Director or Company Secretary, or any position analogous to these offices, to be responsible for ensuring that records are properly kept.
#3 – Enforcement and other matters
20. Mr Speaker, let me now turn to the questions on enforcement.
21. Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked if we will be enhancing enforcement efforts to complement the new offences, to deter irresponsible driving behaviour. Over the years, TP has enhanced its enforcement strategy by leveraging technology to improve detection of offences. TP has also become more transparent with motorists by alerting them before they reach enforcement camera zones, to encourage them to drive more safely. TP will also enforce against motorists who commit the new offences as part of their existing enforcement strategy.
22. Mr Murali Pillai shared his views that we should hold vehicle owners and operators of vehicles criminally liable for fatal and injury-causing accidents which are due to mechanical failure in the vehicle. I agree that it is important that vehicles are well-maintained, to ensure that the safety of not just the occupants but other road users. This is why for accidents involving mechanical failure, such as when the vehicle’s brakes are faulty, TP can already take to task the person who holds the responsibility to maintain the vehicle. That said, we hear the member’s suggestion, and we will work with MOT to review how we can strengthen this.
Instalment Payment Scheme
23. Mr Derrick Goh asked MHA to consider allowing individuals with financial difficulties to pay road traffic fines in instalments. As mentioned in MHA’s Committee of Supply debate in 2021, MHA has been studying this. There are several considerations that MHA will have to think through. I will raise two key considerations. First, whether instalment plans would dilute the deterrent effect of the fines. While we empathise with those facing financial difficulties, we also have a duty to ensure the safety of all other road users. Second, resources that could otherwise have been used to directly enhance road safety, will have to be diverted to monitor instalment plans and manage appeals. These details would have to be worked through.
24. Nevertheless, currently, for genuine cases of financial difficulty, if the individual appeals to TP or LTA and the appeal is assessed to be meritorious, TP or LTA already extend their deadline to pay the traffic fine, by up to several months. This is probably even more helpful to the offender, than an instalment plan.
25. Mr Speaker, road safety is a shared responsibility by all road users. Beyond the amendments to legislation, a wider change on building a good road safety culture is essential. If I may quote Mr Murali Pillai, he said “it is clear that legislation must not be the only policy instrument to protect our most vulnerable on the roads. Instead, there must be greater awareness, education and behavioural change.” This is why our efforts have gone beyond enforcement, to encouraging a good road safety culture through engagement, education, and infrastructural improvements. As Ms Joan Pereira highlighted, public engagement and education of our road traffic rules are important. In this regard, TP and LTA have been continuously working with various stakeholders to improve road safety. I would like to thank our stakeholders for their partnership, hard work and dedication.
26. Sir, I beg to move.