Published: 08 July 2019
1. Mr Speaker, I thank the members for speaking in support of the Bill. Prof Lim Sun Sun had an unfortunate accident. She did not tell me when I met her yesterday. I think we are all relieved she’s recovered and joined MPs to make an important contribution to this debate.
2. SPS Sun Xueling has addressed some of the members’ questions and suggestions. I will deal with those regarding the enhanced criminal penalties, and then emerging road traffic issues.
Bill Specific Amendments
3. First, the definition of Dangerous and Careless Driving.Engineer (Er) Dr Lee Bee Wah raised two examples – accidents caused by drivers who had insufficient rest; and accidents caused when there is a mechanical failure of a vehicle, which Mr Murali Pillai also asked about. How will we deal with them?
4. On driving while sleep-deprived, the Courts have ruled that doing so can be considered as an aggravating factor in sentencing. In general, driving when one is not in the condition to do so is more likely to be considered as Dangerous rather than Careless. Having said that, other factors, such as the manner of driving will also be taken into account. AGC will consider the facts of each case when determining the appropriate offence.
5. On Dr Lee’s second example of mechanical failure of a vehicle, this will not be classified as Dangerous nor Careless Driving offence, as the mechanical fault is not linked to the manner of driving. However, failure to maintain one’s vehicle is already an offence in the Road Traffic Act (RTA). In addition, under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, employers have a duty to ensure the safety and health of their employees at work. This includes proper maintenance of vehicles, and failure to do so will also be an offence.
6. Second, the penalties for specific offences.
7. Mr Christopher de Souza shared his concerns that the increased penalties for Driving without Licence and Permitting or Employing Another Person to Drive without Licence may be too harsh on individuals who may have unknowingly driven a vehicle without a licence. For example, a person may not be aware of the need to certify his fitness to drive and renew his licence when he turns 65. We understand the concern.The Police and the Public Prosecutor will look into the specifics of each case to decide the appropriate charge.
8. Another question Mr de Souza raised had to do with the treatment for motorists when the victim also violated traffic rules and contributed to the accident. Er Dr Lee Bee Wah asked about accidents caused by jaywalkers.
9. Mr Deputy Speaker, when assessing whether a motorist should bear liability for an accident, Traffic Police’s (TP) key consideration is whether the motorist was driving safely. If the motorist had abided by the traffic rules, for example, keeping within speed limits and checking clear before making turns or changing lanes and yet still knocked into the victim, for example, a PMD rider or jaywalker, because the latter had appeared suddenly on the road, and left him with insufficient time to react. The motorist will not be liable for an irresponsible driving offence. That part is clear. Conversely, if the motorist was not driving safely, for instance, he spotted a pedestrian jaywalking but decided to speed up in a bid to drive past the pedestrian before the pedestrian could reach the lane his vehicle was on, and hit the victim as a result, he will be prosecuted. But of course, the jaywalker may also be taken to task. I hope this part is clear.
10. Mr Murali asked about Driving Under Influence (DUI) offences.
11. He asked about the additional penalties for Dangerous and Careless Driving offences, for motorists who had done so while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and if this would mean that a person is punished twice for the same act. There is no double penalty. Consider two actions. The first, the motorist was driving under the influence. The second, a motorist was driving dangerously or carelessly. A motorist committing the first action, DUI, will be liable for penalties even if he was not driving dangerously or carelessly. If he was also committing the second action, that is, driving dangerously or carelessly, he would be liable for penalties under Dangerous or Careless Driving instead of DUI per se. However, the offence of driving dangerously or carelessly while under influence carries higher penalties.
12. Mr Murali asked if the penalties for failing to provide a specimen for a preliminary breath test should be increased. As the proposed penalties are lower than that for the offence of DUI, he worries that this may create an incentive for a motorist not to provide the specimen. There is no such incentive. At present, TP subjects motorists to two tests for suspected DUI offences. First, a preliminary breath test to check if the breath alcohol content is beyond the legal limit and second, a test to measure the exact alcohol content in the motorist. A motorist who refuses to take the preliminary breath test will be arrested by TP and required to take the second test. If the motorist also refuses to take the second test, he will be liable for the offences of failure to provide specimen for the preliminary breath test and failure to provide a specimen for the second test, which has an equivalent penalty to the offence of DUI.I would also like to assure Mr Murali that TP is now able to conduct the second test on the spot with the mobile Breath Evidential Analyser.
13. Mr Christopher de Souza asked if there would be a difference in the way disqualification periods operate for the offences of Dangerous and Careless Driving. The answer is no, there will be no difference in the way disqualification periods operate. The Court will have the discretion to depart from the minimum stipulated periods, if there are special reasons to do so.
14. Mr de Souza also asked about illegal speed trials and the alignment with the penalties for Dangerous and Careless Driving offences. Given the lower penalties for illegal speed trials, he asked if it will be the case that the prosecution will have to choose between forfeiting the vehicle for an illegal speed trial offence as opposed to the higher penalties for a Dangerous Driving offence. The offences mentioned are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for a motorist to be charged for both the offence of Dangerous or Careless Driving and the offence of Illegal Speed Trial. Motorists who drive in a dangerous or careless manner will be liable for the offence of Dangerous or Careless Driving whether or not they are involved in an illegal speed trial. Motorists who partake in illegal street racing will be liable for the offence of Illegal Speed Trial, even if they were not driving dangerously or carelessly.
15. Mr Murali asked if community sentencing options such as community work orders apply to the RTA. Community work orders are meant for reparation and restoration, and are only limited to a prescribed list of offences. RTA offences are not in the list. However, we do have rehabilitative measures, before an accident even occurs, to help encourage safe driving behaviours by motorists. For example, motorists who have clocked a number of demerit points may choose to attend the Safe Driving Course, which helps them learn and practice safe driving habits. Mr Murali had also asked if short detention orders can apply to RTA offences. The answer is yes, if the offence and offender meets the requirements set out under the Criminal Procedure Code, such as not having a specified or mandatory minimum imprisonment. One example is the offence of Careless Driving as well as first time DUI offenders.
16. Third, let me address the questions on compounded offences.
17. Mr Louis Ng highlighted that some individuals could have compounded an offence without intending to admit guilt. He asked if composition offences in the RTA amount to an acquittal.
18. A person who is charged in court and appeals may be offered composition. In such instances, once the charge is withdrawn via a discharge amounting to an acquittal, the composition amounts to an acquittal. However, the current case law states that past composition can be treated as an aggravating factor. The new section 139AA makes it clear that the Courts may take the composition of an offence as a possible aggravating factor when a court sentences for a later RTA offence. It does not matter how the composition came about. The Courts should be able to consider an individual’s history of past compounded offences, for example, whether he had one or many past compositions. In any case, this will only apply within the RTA. As Mr Ng mentioned in his speech, this is in line with the decisions made by the High Court, that compounded offences in the RTA may be taken into account for sentencing. Moving forward, people who choose to accept composition should do so with the awareness that the composition could be treated as aggravating factor in a future conviction. To be fair to them, due warning will be given at the point the composition is offered.
19. Mr Ng also asked about the practical differences between a composition and conviction under the RTA. Apart from the typically lower penalties for compositions, compositions will also not be considered as part of an individual’s criminal records.
Emerging Issues and the Way Forward
20. Mr Deputy Speaker, let me deal briefly with emerging road traffic issues, such as the use of active mobility devices and autonomous vehicles, or AVs. These emerging issues are increasingly complex. To chart the way forward, several Ministries and stakeholders must work together to tackle the issues from different angles.
21. Mr Chris de Souza, Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, and Ms Anthea Ong spoke on the need to ensure riders behave responsibly. We fully agree. MHA and TP work closely with MOT and LTA to dovetail our road safety and active mobility policies. We already regulate the use of active mobility devices through a comprehensive set of measures. At this stage of development, the measures cannot be static. However, as Ms Anthea Ong reminds us, an outright ban may be too blunt an act to take because the elderly and the differently abled have benefitted from the use of active mobility devices. So therefore, it is probably better that the measure be continually updated and improved upon.
22. This Bill does not focus on active mobility devices and in any case, the Ministry of Transport overseas this area. I will therefore speak more on the approach taken on the road safety front. On the roads, there have been rules on the use of active mobility devices such as bicycles. In Feb this year, the Government introduced new rules including the mandatory use of helmets by cyclists on roads. Now, active mobility users at pedestrian crossings must also “stop and look” before crossing. In Apr 2019, MHA and TP increased the composition sums for cyclist offences on the roads. We have also ramped up public education to raise awareness among active mobility users. Examples of such measures includes TP’s “Use Your RoadSense” campaign and LTA’s “Safer Together” campaign. These efforts will have to continue.
23. Ms Anthea Ong spoke on the need to ensure that AVs are deployed safely. Indeed, self-driving technology has the potential to radically transform our transport system and improve our living environment. But we must ensure technology implementation does not endanger human lives. MHA and TP are working closely with MOT to ensure that the AV testing regime is rigorous and the deployment of AVs is done in a cautious and safe manner, taking into account the impact on other road users including the elderly and differently abled. Likewise, we will continue to evaluate different technologies as they are made available. In fact, like AVs, these different technologies are probably on trial already, one way or the other. So let me reassure members that if the technologies improve road safety and are feasible to implement, we will find ways to adopt them.
24. Mr Deputy Speaker, to successfully tackle all our challenges, a good road safety culture is essential. If I may quote Mr Ang Hin Kee:
“Beyond the law, I believe we can channel our efforts to cultivate responsible road users and for everybody to have a safer commute.”.
25. Indeed, we all have a shared responsibility for road safety, yet, this may also be where we most fall short. Er Dr Lee had asked about the underlying causes of unsafe and discourteous road behaviours. We too want to know. So TP recently conducted a nationwide study involving different road user groups and three findings stood out:
a. First, road users tend to prioritise their own needs to get to their destinations at the fastest speed and the shortest time possible.
b. Second, as highlighted by Ms Rahayu, most road users rate their personal safety and graciousness positively, but rate the personal safety and graciousness of other road users negatively; and
c. The third finding, unsurprisingly, is that road users tend to feel that it is the responsibility of others to make the road safer.
26. So this is the situation that we have to deal with. The findings tell us that we have some way to go before the culture of responsible and gracious road use takes root among Singaporeans. Dr Chia Shi-Lu felt this way too.This is why TP’s efforts has always been to go beyond enforcement measures, to encourage a safe road use through cultural change through engagement, through education and of course also through infrastructural improvements.This is also advocated by members like Mr Melvin Yong and Ms Joan Pereira.
27. As I mentioned in my earlier speech, TP’s and LTA’s recent road safety efforts have shown encouraging results. The road safety situation remains stable and the number of road traffic accidents have decreased. Assistant Professor Walter Theseira has also of course cited some very useful statistics to compare how we fare relative to other jurisdictions. However, there is still a need for continual review and improvement.This Bill is another step in this direction.
28. Sir, I beg to move.
Mr Murali Pillai has expanded on his point pertaining to the penalties for preliminary breath tests. He asks if TP is able to conduct the second test on the spot today, as there are technologies available on the market.