08 Jul 2019

Second Reading of Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Manpower

  1. Mr Speaker, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
  2.  

    Introduction

  3. The Road Traffic Act, or RTA, provides for the regulation of road traffic and vehicles.

     

  4. The most recent amendments were by the Ministry of Transport (MOT). In 2017, MOT introduced changes to the autonomous vehicle testing regime. In 2018, the RTA was updated along with the introduction of the Active Mobility Act.

     

  5. The Ministry of Home Affairs, or MHA, also amended the RTA in 2014 to make it an offence for motorists to hold any type of mobile communication device while driving.

     

  6. While the RTA has been updated regularly, the last comprehensive review was conducted more than 20 years ago, in 1996.

     

  7. The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2019 is therefore timely. To make our roads safer, we need stronger deterrence against irresponsible driving. We will do this by:

     

    a. Enhancing the criminal penalties; and

    b. Tightening the regulatory regime.

     

  8. I will speak first on enhancing criminal penalties. Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling, who will be speaking in her Home Affairs capacity, will cover measures to tighten the regulatory regime, as well as other amendments for better road safety.

     

    Background

  9. Let me start with some background.

     

  10. In recent years, Traffic Police (TP) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) have stepped up enforcement, education and engagement, to improve road safety. TP has upgraded and expanded its enforcement camera network. Earlier this year, TP raised the composition sums for road traffic violations to ensure they remain effective deterrents. LTA has installed new road safety infrastructure. In addition, TP and LTA ramped up public education and engagement, working with partners such as the Singapore Road Safety Council.

     

  11. These efforts have shown encouraging results. Over the past five years, the number of fatal road traffic accidents has dropped more than 20%. There are also fewer road traffic accidents resulting in injuries.

     

  12. However, irresponsible driving remains a big concern. The number of feedback letters received on irresponsible driving has increased by more than 70% in 5 years. We also see more video footage of such behaviour being shared online.

     

  13. Why is this a problem? Because irresponsible driving can have deadly consequences.

     

  14. Even if victims survive the accident, they or their families may suffer long-term problems, sometimes medical, sometimes permanent disabilities.

     

    a. In February 2016, a 62-year old rag-and-bone lady was killed after a drink-driver rammed his vehicle into her. The lady was the main caregiver to her nine-year old grandson, who was suffering from a rare auto-immune condition. The driver had been drinking for nine straight hours before the accident.

     

    b. Earlier this year, Staff Sgt Salinah, a Police officer and young mother to three children, was knocked down at a pedestrian crossing. After she was declared brain dead, her husband had to make the difficult decision to take her off life support. Her husband said his children still misses their mother the most around bedtime.

     

  15. These are heart-wrenching tragedies that could been avoided. Enforcement, education and road safety infrastructure must certainly continue to be improved. But we also need stronger deterrence against irresponsible driving.

     

    Broad Support for Proposed Changes

     

  16. MHA reviewed the existing framework of criminal offences and penalties against irresponsible driving. In February this year, we announced our proposals and sought public feedback.

     

  17. In particular, there was broad support for the enhanced penalties. Many felt the move was timely. We also received suggestions, some of which have been adopted and others which we intend to address. I will highlight these suggestions and clarifications in due course.

  18. Mr Speaker, all of the proposals announced in February have been translated into the Bill. There are three broad categories of changes. First, our overall approach in dealing with irresponsible driving offences, particularly those that result in accidents and hurt. Second, enhancements to the criminal penalties for drink-driving and related offences and third, the introduction of minimum mandatory sentences for the most egregious offences.

     

    Overall Approach to Irresponsible Driving Offences

     

  19. I will start with our enhanced approach towards irresponsible driving offences.

     

  20. Today, irresponsible driving offences are prosecuted in two ways. One way is under the Penal Code, for Rash Act, and Negligent Act. Another way is under the RTA, for Reckless or Dangerous Driving, and Driving without Due Care or Reasonable Consideration. The penalties differ.

     

  21. For better clarity and consistency, we propose to consolidate irresponsible driving offences under the RTA.

     

  22. We will also streamline the offences into two classes. The first category is Reckless or Dangerous Driving, which I will refer to as Dangerous Driving in the rest of the speech. The second category is Driving without Due Care or Reasonable Consideration, which I will refer to as Careless Driving. The definitions of Dangerous Driving and Careless Driving are currently in the RTA. We will maintain the current definitions.

     

  23. Dangerous Driving is more serious than Careless Driving.

     

  24. The two can be differentiated, on a case-by-case basis. The three main considerations, among others, are as follows:

     

    a. First, whether the manner of driving predictably puts other road users at risk and cause other road users to be unable to react in time. Examples of driving that are considered as dangerous, as opposed to careless, include swerving across lanes suddenly and without warning, driving against the flow of traffic, and speeding.

     

    b. Second, whether the motorist had driven even though he should have known he was not in a condition to drive safely. Examples of behaviour that are considered dangerous include using mobile devices while driving, and failing to use visual aids such as spectacles even though the driver is seriously short-sighted.

     

    c. Third, whether the road situation required the motorist to take extra care but he did not. Examples include when he is approaching a zebra crossing, or a junction where other road users have the right of way.

     

  25. When determining the punishment, we will look at the circumstances under which the offence is committed. The threshold for Dangerous Driving is higher than Careless Driving. So too the penalties.

     

  26. Besides looking at the circumstances of the offence, our enhanced approach will also consider the level of harm caused. If the motorist causes more harm, the level of punishment will be higher.

     

  27. There will be four levels of harm:

     

    a. Death;

    b. Grievous Hurt;

    c. Hurt; and

    d. Endangering Life.

     

    Such tiering of harm is not new in our laws – the Penal Code already has it.

     

  28. To summarise – we will enhance our overall approach to penalise irresponsible driving depending on:

     

    a. The circumstances of the offence - whether it constitutes Dangerous Driving or Careless Driving; and

     

    b. The level of harm caused - whether they result in Death; Grievous Hurt; Hurt; or Endangering Life.

     

    Enhancements to Criminal Penalties

     

  29. Let me move on to the penalties themselves.

     

  30. Today, our penalties for irresponsible driving offences are generally less severe than in other jurisdictions. For example, for Dangerous Driving causing Death. The maximum jail term in Singapore is only five years. It is 14 years in the UK. 10 years in New South Wales, Australia, Hong Kong as well as Malaysia.

     

  31. In most instances, the actual sentences meted out are lower than the maximum penalties. In recent times, there were at least two separate instances of a motorist beating the red-light, colliding into and killing another person. In the April 2017 case, a pedestrian was killed. In the April 2018 case, the vehicle collided into another car, killing the rear passenger. Both motorists were charged for the offence of Dangerous Driving causing Death. Their sentences were five and seven months of imprisonment.

     

  32. These are manifestly inadequate. Therefore, we intend to raise the penalties. We also need to raise sentencing norms for egregious irresponsible driving offences, particular those that result in death or some form of permanent disability.

     

  33. Let me deal first with penalties in general.

     

  34. Clauses 13 and 14 of the Bill amend sections 64 and 65 to introduce higher maximum jail terms and fines, where applicable, as compared to the existing penalties under the Penal Code and RTA.

     

  35. We will also introduce additional levers, to take irresponsible motorists off the roads more quickly and for longer.

     

    a. First, we will give TP the discretion to impose immediate suspension for all Dangerous Driving offences, as well as Careless Driving offences that cause Death or Grievous Hurt. Otherwise, these motorists can continue to drive until such time that they are convicted. TP already has the discretion to do so, for offences that result in death, serious injury or serious damage to buildings. Clause 11 amends section 47C to cover all cases of Dangerous Driving as well.

     

    b. Second, we will introduce minimum disqualification or DQ periods, for offences that cause Death and Grievous Hurt. In exceptional circumstances, such as where the motorist committed the offence while rushing for a medical emergency, the Courts will have the discretion not to apply the minimum DQ periods. Clauses 13 and 14 of the Bill amend sections 64 and 65 for these purposes.

     

    c. Third, the Public Prosecutor may apply for forfeiture of a vehicle used for an expanded group of offences, such as Dangerous Driving causing Death or Grievous Hurt. Clauses 3 and 15 bring this into effect. For these offences, the Courts will have the discretion not to forfeit the vehicle if the offender is not the vehicle owner and had driven the vehicle without the owner’s consent. In addition, for specified offences, the Courts will also have the discretion not to forfeit the vehicle, if there are good reasons – for instance, if the motorist had committed the offence while rushing to the hospital for a medical emergency.

     

  36. With these changes, for Dangerous Driving causing Death, a first-time offender will be liable for up to eight years of imprisonment, up from five years at present. Repeat offenders will now be liable for up to 15 years of imprisonment. In addition, a first-time or repeat offender could also face a minimum DQ period of 10 years, as well as immediate suspension and forfeiture of vehicle.

     

  37. As we are consolidating irresponsible driving offences under RTA, we should make clear the understanding of “repeat offender”.

     

    a. It will include a person who has a previous conviction for any Rash or Negligent Act offence in the Penal Code where irresponsible driving was involved.

     

    b. Likewise, any Dangerous Driving or Careless Driving convictions under the RTA, or speeding-related convictions are included. Speeding-related convictions will include offences such as Illegal Speed Trials, colloquially known as illegal street racing, which have been tried and convicted by the Courts. However, it will not include speeding-related offences which have been compounded, which is the way most minor speeding offences are settled today.

     

    A Focus on Drink-Driving and Related Offences

     

  38. Mr Speaker, I will now turn to the amendments for driving under influence.

     

  39. Drivers who are drunk or drug-impaired show a blatant disregard for the safety of other road users. They are one of the biggest contributors to serious accidents on our roads. These are also accidents that clearly could have been avoided, if the motorist had not come under influence or did not drive.

     

  40. Currently, such motorists typically face the same maximum penalties as other motorists who cause accidents. The judge may take into consideration that the offender was driving under influence (DUI) during the sentencing itself. But it would be clearer to have our intentions codified in law.

     

  41. In fact, our intention is for offenders driving under influence to face stiffer penalties, to signal the aggravated seriousness of their actions.

     

  42. In Aug 2013, a motorist drove his car at high speeds, swaying between lanes along CTE.Eventually, he rammed into a group of five, killing four victims. He was sentenced him to the maximum penalty of five years in jail for dangerous driving causing death, the maximum punishment available. The Court could not mete out higher penalties, even though he had knowingly consumed drugs before driving and was a recalcitrant offender.

     

  43. We therefore propose to introduce additional penalties for a motorist who commit a Dangerous Driving or Careless Driving offence, and who:

     

    a. Is found guilty for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; or

     

    b. Had refused to take a breathalyser or blood alcohol test, when directed by TP.

     

    These will be in the form of additional maximum penalties and additional minimum DQ periods.

     

  44. For example, a first-time offender who causes death by Dangerous Driving, and had done so while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will face an additional maximum jail term of two years, and an additional minimum DQ period of two years.

     

  45. This means that motorists who drink-and-drive, and caused death by Dangerous Driving will now be liable for a maximum jail term of 10 years, and to a minimum DQ period of at least 12 years. Repeat offenders will likewise face higher penalties, of up to 19 years in jail and lifetime DQ from driving.

     

  46. An individual will be deemed a repeat offender for an offence of DUI, if he has a previous conviction for DUI, for being in charge of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or for failure to produce a specimen for a drug or alcohol test.

     

  47. Mr Speaker, during the public engagement process, respondents felt that even a standalone DUI offence where no accident is caused, should attract higher penalties to better reflect its gravity.

     

  48. We agree with this view. The consumption of alcohol or drugs already makes a motorist a danger to other road users. Section 67 in Clause 17 of the bill will raise the penalties to about double the current levels.

     

  49. We will also raise the existing minimum DQ period to two years for first-time DUI offenders and five years for second-time DUI offenders. A lifelong DQ will be imposed on third-time DUI offenders.

     

  50. In addition, we will amend section 47C through Clause 11, to allow TP to impose immediate suspension for all DUI offences.

     

    Mandatory Minimum Sentences

     

  51. Mr Speaker, some members may rightly point out that the penalties, particularly those for first-time offenders, are still lower than those in other jurisdictions. How exactly then does MHA intend to raise the sentencing norms for irresponsible driving offences? This is where the last category of changes come in.

     

  52. We will set benchmarks based on egregious offences where manifestly inadequate jail sentences must be avoided. We will introduce mandatory minimum jail sentences, or MMS for Dangerous Driving causing Death or Grievous Hurt.

     

  53. With the changes, a first-time offender for Dangerous Driving causing Death will be jailed for at least two years. Repeat offenders will be jailed for at least four years.

     

  54. We will also have MMS, for the offences of Dangerous Driving causing Death or Grievous Hurt, where DUI is involved. A first-time offender who causes death will be jailed for at least three years. Repeat offenders can face minimum sentences of up to six years in jail.

     

  55. Take for example, the case of the 62-year old rag-and-bone lady who was killed by a drink-driver. The offender had been drinking for nine straight hours, and was charged for the offence of causing death by a rash act. During sentencing, also taken into consideration were one count of drink-driving, and another count of causing grievous hurt to the dead victim’s husband by a rash act. In all, against a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, he received a term of ten months and DQ of eight years. Many people felt rightly that the motorist was let off too lightly. With the changes, the offender will be sentenced to at least three years in jail, if he is convicted of both Dangerous Driving causing Death and DUI. The minimum DQ will also be lengthened to 12 years.

     

  56. Mr Speaker, after we have tabled the Bill for First Reading, we received additional feedback. Some respondents noted that while MMS was justified for egregious offenders, there may be rare but valid cases where extenuating exceptional circumstances prevail, and where imposing the minimum jail sentence may result in an unfair punishment.

     

  57. These concerns are valid. We need not prescribe the extenuating instances in law. Instead, we have introduced an amendment to the Bill to provide the Courts with discretion to deviate from and impose a sentence lower than the MMS terms, should there be special reasons to do so. Special reasons must constitute exceptional mitigating factors or circumstances specific to the case. For example, the offender was rushing to send a passenger for emergency medical treatment in a life-and-death situation when the accident occurred.

     

     Conclusion

     

  58. Mr Speaker, motorists who have a blatant disregard for the safety of other road users should be severely punished. During our public engagement, some respondents asked if punishments for inconsiderate non-motorists should also be increased.

     

  59. The road situation today is more complex as compared to twenty years ago, when the last major review was conducted. There are new groups of road users, such as active mobility device users or new types of vocational drivers and riders. Motorists alone cannot be held responsible for the road safety of all road users.

     

  60. These amendments therefore cannot be viewed in isolation.

     

  61. MHA has been working with our counterparts at MOT and MOM, to address other aspects of road safety such as active mobility and vocational drivers. For example, the composition sums for traffic violations by pedestrians and cyclists were raised recently.

     

  62. As I mentioned earlier, TP and LTA have taken steps beyond enforcement. Engagement and education do help to rehabilitate errant road users. However, where an act is dangerous and causes harm to others, we should not let it go lightly punished. Doing so will only undermine our road safety regime.

     

  63. Mr Speaker, this Bill is necessary to help make our roads safer, by enhancing deterrence against irresponsible driving.

     

  64. I beg to move.
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