08 September 2014
Second Reading Speech on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs
Madam Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”
2. Madam, our road safety situation has improved over the years, with a 13% decline in the number of fatal accidents since 2009. Nonetheless, accidents on our roads can and should be prevented. We introduced the Safer Roads Singapore (SRS) action plan in 2013 with the three-pronged approach of education, engagement and enforcement. The SRS is a continuation of Traffic Police’s (TP) long-standing efforts to inculcate responsible road use for all road users. I am glad to see our partners such as the Singapore Road Safety Council actively supporting the SRS objective of engendering a culture of safe road use in Singapore.
3. As part of this effort, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has reviewed the RTA to ensure it remains relevant and that we continue to have the necessary enforcement and regulatory powers to ensure that our roads stay safe. The proposed amendments will (i) strengthen the Traffic Police’s (TP) enforcement powers, (ii) enhance competency of drivers, (iii) clarify the expected behaviour of vehicle owners and motorists on responsible road use, and (iv) streamline administrative processes. I will address each of these four areas in turn.
Strengthen TP’s enforcement powers
4. First, we intend to strengthen TP’s enforcement powers to ensure that TP can deal effectively with errant behaviour on the roads.
Expand scope of mobile telephone driving offence
5. MHA first introduced the offence of driving while using a mobile telephone, or more commonly referred to as “handphone driving”, in 1999. This prohibits a driver from holding a mobile telephone and using it to communicate with another person while the vehicle is in motion. The number of violations for this offence has risen by almost 25% over the last five years – from 2,867 violations in 2009 to 3,572 violations in 2013. In recent years, with technological advancements, smart phones can, among other things, be used to surf the Internet, check email and play games and not just make phone calls. There has also been a proliferation in the types of communication devices, such as tablet computers, that can be just as distracting to the driver.
6. As such, clause 14 of the Bill repeals and re-enacts section 65B to expand the scope of the offence for driving while using a mobile telephone. First, the proposed amendments will clarify that the offence will cover the use of all “mobile communication devices”, which includes devices such as tablet computers. Second, the definition of “use” will be broadened to cover any function of the device, including Internet-surfing, the checking of email, or the playing of games. It will be an offence as long as the device is held in at least one hand while the vehicle is in motion.
Enhance competency of drivers
7. Enforcement alone is not sufficient. Motorists must possess the necessary skills to drive safely and exhibit proper behaviour on our roads. As such, the second set of amendments seeks to enhance the competency of motorists, both local and foreign, on our roads. I will start with two key changes we intend to make to the licensing regime for foreign vocational drivers, before addressing the competency of general motorists.
Licensing of foreign vocational drivers
8. Madam, I think it might be useful if I first sketch out current licensing requirements for foreigners, including vocational drivers who drive for work. Today, foreigners are allowed to drive in Singapore using their foreign licences for up to 12 months from their date of last entry into Singapore. They need to obtain a local driving licence to continue driving thereafter. To do so, foreign drivers have the option to convert their foreign licences to local ones, after passing the requisite tests. Today, TP allows a person to convert to motorcycle and Class 3/3A (lighter models of motorcars and other motor vehicles) licences by passing the Basic Theory Test.
9. We will make two changes to this licensing regime. First, we will repeal and re-enact section 38 of the RTA to require work pass holders who drive as part of their job to obtain a local driving licence within 6 months from the date of issue of their work passes for all licence classes. We have provided for the 6-month period after studying the practices of other jurisdictions and taking into account the views of industry stakeholders. These changes will come into effect on 1 January 2016 to give the industry sufficient time for adjustment. However, I encourage all employers to start sending your foreign drivers to obtain local licences prior to that. Fleet operators also have a responsibility to keep our roads safe and in fact, they should send their foreign drivers to obtain local licences before they are deployed on our roads. I understand that fleet operators like Bok Seng Logistics already do so. I encourage all employers to do the same.
10. Second, we will raise the licence conversion requirements for Work Permit and S-Pass holders who drive Class 3 vehicles. The Class 3 licence category allows holders to drive motorcars, light goods vehicles and small buses. They will now be required to pass the Practical Driving Test in addition to the Basic Theory Test to convert to a local Class 3 licence. At the same time, we will amend the Road Traffic (Motor Vehicles, Driving Licences) Rules to introduce a new Class 3C licence category from June 2015. This licence class will allow the holder to drive all Class 3 vehicles except light goods vehicles and small buses. To convert to this licence class, the holder needs to pass the Basic Theory Test only.
11. Madam, we have consulted industry associations such as the Singapore Logistics Association and Singapore Transport Association on these changes. To facilitate this transition, existing work permit and S-pass holders who hold converted Class 3 licences will, upon application, be issued with Class 3C licences upon the expiry of their current licences. Those who drive light goods vehicles and small buses will be required to take the Practical Driving Test when renewing their licences, and they will be given sufficient time to do so. They will then be issued with a full Class 3 licence. These changes will better ensure that these drivers are competent and familiar with driving on our roads.
12. Put together, these two changes will ensure that foreign vocational drivers are competent when they drive on our roads. Let me illustrate these changes with an example. A work permit holder is hired to drive a light goods vehicle. Prior to the policy changes, he would have been able to drive with his foreign licence for up to 12 months upon entering Singapore and then take the Basic Theory Test to convert his foreign licence to a local Class 3 licence. Following the policy changes, he will have to pass both the Basic Theory Test and Practical Driving Test within 6 months of obtaining his work pass to convert to a local Class 3 licence.
Introduce the Safe Driving Course
13. Madam, I will now move on to competency for general motorists. TP will introduce a voluntary Safe Driving Course (SDC) in the second half of 2015. The SDC will be offered to eligible drivers who have accumulated half or more of their maximum allowable demerit points. However, the SDC will not be offered to probationary drivers who have just obtained their driving licences as we expect new drivers to be more careful on the roads. The SDC also allows for earlier intervention so that we can correct unsafe road habits. To encourage motorists to take this course, those who pass the course will have three demerit points deducted from their record. Clauses 4 and 9 amend sections 35A and 45 respectively to provide Minister with the power to make rules regulating the disregarding or cancellation of demerit points. This will allow the introduction of the SDC. Clarify expected behaviour of vehicle owners and motorists on responsible road use
14. Madam, everyone has to play a part in ensuring road safety. The third set of amendments will clarify the expected behaviour of vehicle owners and motorists on responsible road use.
Impose rebuttable presumption against vehicle owners for selected traffic offences
15. Clause 20 amends section 81 to introduce a rebuttable presumption regime for selected compoundable and driver-related traffic offences specified in the new Part I of the Third Schedule (as amended by clause 26) such as speeding and redrunning. Under this regime, the vehicle owner is presumed to have committed the principal offence if he fails to provide TP with the particulars of the driver who had committed the offence. For example, if a vehicle is caught speeding by a speed camera and the owner does not provide the driver’s particulars, TP will be empowered to take action against the vehicle owner for the speeding offence. However, the owner can also rebut the presumption by proving that he was not the driver at the time of the offence, such as by showing proof that he was overseas.
16. This amendment reinforces the duty of vehicle owners to ensure responsible use of their vehicles, and to assist with the administration of justice. It will also enhance TP’s effectiveness in enforcement, especially for camera-enforced offences where the identity of the driver cannot be ascertained from camera-footage alone.
Clarify expected behaviour of drivers involved in accidents
17. Next, clause 22 amends section 84 to clarify the expected behaviour of drivers involved in accidents. Currently, a driver involved in an accident where damage or injury is caused to any person, vehicle, structure or animal has to stop. He is then required to provide his particulars if requested to do so by other persons at the scene of the accident. The amendments retain the requirement for the driver to stop following an accident. However, they add an obligation on the driver to take reasonable steps to provide his particulars to the owner even when no one is around to request for such information. For example, if a driver hits a car in a carpark, the driver should leave a note on the damaged car with his particulars. In addition, the driver must report the accident to the police as soon as reasonably practicable and within 24 hours unless he is first contacted by the owner.
18. Drivers who fail to take these actions shall be liable for the offence of hit-andrun. Overall, the proposed amendment will facilitate restitution for victims of accidents.
19. Finally, Madam, I will briefly state the other amendments in the Bill that seek to streamline TP’s internal processes.
20. Clause 13 amends section 62A to allow the Minister to prescribe in subsidiary legislation the upper age limit for driving heavy vehicles. Clause 15 amends section 70 to enable TP to require suspected drink-drivers to provide blood specimens to doctors within Police stations, instead of only at hospitals. This will relieve TP of the need to escort arrested persons to the hospital to have their blood specimen taken. To streamline processes, clauses 16 to 19 and 23 to 25 amend the RTA to vest various technical and operational powers, such as the power to approve types of motorcycle helmets and seat belts, in either the Deputy Commissioner of Police or the Registrar of Vehicles, instead of the Minister.
21. Clauses 12 and 27(a) also amend the RTA to designate the Commissioner of Police (CP), instead of the Minister, as the authority to assess appeals relating to the DCP’s decisions on driving licences and driving instructor licences, while Minister will continue to hear appeals related to driving school licences. This amendment will better calibrate the type of appeals reviewed by Minister, depending on the degree of public impact.
22. Several other amendments update and clarify TP’s regulatory powers related to driving licences. Clause 5 amends section 35C to clarify that a person whose driving licence has been revoked is allowed to drive again if he is issued with a new driving licence. Clause 6(c) amends section 36 to remove the requirement for learner motorcycle riders to complete a circuit training programme before obtaining a provisional driving licence. Clause 10 amends section 47C to give the DCP the powers to immediately suspend the licence of a driver involved in a traffic accident who is being investigated for the offence of causing grievous hurt under section 338 of the Penal Code. This gives the DCP broader powers to remove dangerous drivers from our roads, even as investigations are taking place.
23. In summary, the proposed amendments will strengthen TP’s enforcement powers, enhance driver competency, clarify the expected behaviour of vehicle owners and motorists, and update administrative processes to enhance TP’s responsiveness. However, individual responsibility is just as important. Motorists need to acquire the necessary skills, hone the right habits and adopt a safety first mindset. If we all play our part, we can engender a culture of safe and courteous road use, and help reduce the number of accidents on our roads.
24. Madam Speaker, I beg to move.