Published: 08 July 2019
1. Mr Speaker, Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo has outlined MHA’s rationale behind enhancing criminal penalties for irresponsible driving. I will now be speaking in my capacity as Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs, and explain the Ministry’s views on the remaining amendments.
a. First, I will cover the measures to tighten the regulatory regime against irresponsible driving; and
b. Second, other minor amendments to improve road safety.
Tighten Regulatory Regime against Irresponsible Driving
2. TP operates the Driver Improvement Points System, DIPS for short. Under this regime, a motorist clocks demerit points when he commits a traffic offence – the more severe the offence, the more demerit points it will attract. Motorists that exceed a stipulated threshold will have their licences suspended.
3. The DIPS regime is a deterrent against risk-taking behaviour that is dangerous to other road users, such as illegal U-turns, speeding, and beating red-lights.
4. MHA intends to enhance the DIPS regime to further deter risk-taking behaviour by motorists. There are four key measures:
a. First, to streamline the licence suspension and revocation process;
b. Second, to lengthen the licence suspension period for repeat offenders;
c. Third, to revoke all of an individual’s probationary licences, as long as any one of them is revoked; and
d. Fourth, to allow the Courts to consider past compounded road traffic offences as an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing a person convicted of a road traffic offence.
5. I will cover each of the measures in turn.
6. First – to streamline the suspension and revocation process. Currently, some errant motorists delay the suspension or revocation of their licences by misusing the appeals mechanism. They file multiple unmerited appeals at different junctures, and through different channels. By doing so, they drag out the process, so that they can continue to drive in the interim.But we need to remember, these are irresponsible drivers who have already been picked up for multiple offences leading to a suspension or revocation. To allow them to continue driving while they drag out the appeal process, is to put other motorists at risk.
7. We will amend the RTA to make it clear that the Deputy Commissioner of Police, or the DCP for short, is allowed to effect licence suspension or revocation four weeks from the date of its notice to the affected motorist. Motorists can still appeal to DCP. Police where possible will process and respond to an appeal within two weeks of receiving the appeal. However, DCP will have the power to suspend or revoke the licence four weeks after the date of its notice, even if the appeal is still being processed. For example, there are cases where the motorist only submits an appeal close to four weeks after receiving the notice. The DCP may still suspend or revoke the licence first and subsequently rescind the suspension or revocation if there are valid grounds to do so.
8. We need to bear in mind that to be facing a suspension or revocation, the errant motorist will already have committed several offences prior.
9. Mr Speaker, at this point, I would like to highlight that TP only suspends or revokes an individual’s licence, when there are good reasons to do so:
a. First, a suspension or revocation is imposed only when objective criteria are met. For suspension, this usually happens when the motorist has breached the demerit point threshold – either 24 or 12 points, depending on how many prior suspensions he has had. For revocation, this happens when he is on probation and has clocked more than 12 demerit points.
b. Second, for TP to mete out demerit points to a motorist, one of two conditions must apply. First, the Courts have convicted the motorist of the offence. Or two, the motorist has compounded the offence he is reasonably suspected to have committed. This means that the motorist would have already had a previous opportunity to appeal against these individual offences, by either contesting it in Court or appealing to TP during an offer of composition, before the demerit points were awarded to him.
c. Third, motorists who are caught committing a road traffic violation also typically have little reason to dispute against the violation. TP only takes enforcement action, when there are strong grounds that an offence has been made out. For a majority of offences, the evidence typically comes in the form of photographic or video evidence or by detection from TP’s enforcement unit.
10. I would also like to speak on appeals in general. A number of affected motorists appeal against suspension or revocation on the basis that they need to drive as part of their job. Actually, if an individual depends on driving to make a living, that is all the more reason for him to drive safely, and for him to be off the roads if he is unable or unwilling to do so. TP, as part of its overall road safety strategy, offers motorists the opportunity to improve their driving behaviour through retraining courses.
a. Firstly, motorists who accumulate more than one-third of the maximum allowable demerit points are offered the opportunity to attend the Safe Driving Course, an early intervention measure for those who have exhibited unsafe driving behaviours. Upon completion of the course, motorists will have four demerit points expunged from their records.
b. Secondly, motorists who are liable for their first and second suspensions are offered the opportunity to attend the Driver Improvement Point System Retraining Course, also known as the DIPS Retraining Course, which is a rehabilitation course to help errant motorists relearn and practise safe driving habits. Upon successfully passing the course, motorists will have their suspension periods reduced significantly.
11. Mr Speaker, I would now like to address the second measure – lengthen the licence suspension period for serial offenders. We propose to amend the RTA to allow TP to suspend an individual’s licence for up to five years – from up to three years currently. To put this in perspective, the upper scale of the suspension applies to very serious serial offenders. For instance, with the change, motorists who are facing their sixth suspension, which is equivalent to accumulating demerit points from at least seven red-light beating offences in a short span of time, will have their licence suspended for four years. Those who are facing their seventh or more suspension will have their licence suspended for five years. As you can see, these are recalcitrant offenders who are a real danger on the roads to themselves, to other motorists and other road users. Subsidiary legislation will be prescribed to stipulate the length of the suspension period based on the number of previous suspensions. That there are drivers who have been slapped with six or more suspensions may sound unbelievable, but I assure you, it is not unheard of. In 2018 alone, there were seven such motorists.
12. I now move to the third measure – revoking all of an individual’s probationary licences, as long as any one of them is revoked. At present, under certain circumstances, a motorist may continue to hold probationary licences for other vehicle classes even though one of his probationary licences has been revoked.
13. This is a gap that should be addressed. TP expects a motorist to take extra care to drive safely when he is on probation, given his relative inexperience. If he breaches the demerit point threshold for any of his probationary licences, for the safety of other road users, he should no longer be allowed to drive any vehicle for which he holds a probationary licence.
14. The fourth measure is to allow the Courts to consider past compounded road traffic offences as an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing a person convicted of a road traffic offence.A person’s record of compounded offences is a useful indicator of his driving behaviour.
15. Mr Speaker, MHA would also like to make three other amendments.
Definition of Animals and Obligations for Accidents involving Animals
16. The first pertains to the definition of animals, and the obligations of motorists when accidents involving animals occur. The current definition of animals, which is restricted to an exhaustive list of farm animals such as cattle, horses and dogs, is archaic and not relevant to our context. We will remove this definition, and instead will rely on the general definition of the word.
17. Motorists will be obliged to stop their vehicle, only if it is safe to do so, and render any necessary assistance in accidents involving animals in two scenarios.
a. First, if the body of the animal or carcass is a road safety hazard, motorists should take steps to alert other road users to the obstruction. For example, in road accidents involving wild boars, the carcass is likely to result in some obstruction to vehicles.
b. Second, if there is reasonable belief that the animal may have an owner, motorists should make attempts to inform the owner or the Police, for example, in road accidents involving dogs that are wearing a collar.
Optional Physical Driving Licence
18. Mr Speaker, the second amendment pertains to physical driving licences. Today, TP no longer relies on physical licences to ascertain an individual’s driving qualifications. TP can access this information backend, using an individual’s NRIC and date of birth.
19. Therefore, as part of the effort towards digitisation, TP plans to issue physical driving licences to motorists only upon request. Hence, we will amend the RTA to remove existing requirements for individuals to surrender their physical licences, if they do not have one.
Increased Penalties for Riding Without a Helmet
20. The third amendment pertains to the penalties for riding without a helmet. At present, section 74 of the RTA subjects motorcyclists and pillion riders who do not wear helmets to a fine of up to $200. This penalty is less severe than those of other similar offences in the RTA such as failing to wear a proper seat belt or making an illegal U-turn, which attract a jail term of up to three months and a fine of up to $1,000. We will raise the penalties for riding without a helmet to the same level.
21. Mr Speaker, the amendments I have outlined will complement the enhanced criminal penalties against irresponsible driving, as well as our overall strategy towards road safety. This Bill will make our roads safer, by increasing deterrence against irresponsible driving. Thank you. I beg to move.