08 September 2014

Wrap-Up Speech on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs

             I would like to thank Members who have expressed support for the Bill and their recognition of TP’s efforts in keeping our roads safe. At the same time, Members have raised good and pertinent points, which can be grouped into four main themes: First, our overall strategy for road safety; second, the enforcement of traffic offences, in particular, the handphone driving offence; third, public education and driver competency; and finally, responsible road use. Let me address each of these four main issues, before I speak on other specific issues Members have raised. 

Strategy for Enhancing Road Safety

2. Madam, allow me to begin by reiterating some of the key tenets of our strategy on enhancing road safety. At its core, all road users must exercise individual responsibility to cultivate and practise safe and courteous road use. Laws alone are not enough. Other stakeholders, including government and employers, also have a great part to play. The Safer Roads Singapore (SRS) initiative was launched in 2013 with its three prong approach of enforcement, education and engagement so as to engender a culture of safe and courteous road use. 

3. Our proposed amendments to the RTA take reference from the SRS roadmap and give effect to some of the initiatives that were previously announced. 

4. The implementation of SRS has been progressing well. We have stepped up our tempo of enforcement. Mr Lim Biow Chuan and Mr Zainal Sapari spoke about the importance of effective enforcement. TP has deployed an additional 70 Traffic Police officers as well as Auxiliary Police Officers on our roads since 2013. Indeed Mr Lim’s pointing out of increase in violation, is in no small part a result of violations alone, but also a result of increased enforcement. Anecdotally, I have been told that motorists have felt this increased presence on the roads and feel safer and more reassured because of this. Mr Lim also mentioned certain hotspots. TP does take into account feedback from the community in the deployment of its enforcement resources. I will also inform TP about the specific areas of concern that the Member has mentioned. Apart from more officers on the roads, TP has also been installing digital red-light and speed cameras – 60 digital red-light cameras have been installed since March 2014. These initiatives will augment TP’s enforcement capabilities and allow them to effectively enforce the amendments being discussed today. 

5.  On education, TP has implemented several initiatives, such as requiring all learner motorcycle riders to take the Expressway Familiarisation Ride course, as well as revising the retraining course for motorists facing their first or second suspensions, to have a more comprehensive curriculum and more stringent passing standards. On the engagement front, TP has worked with the Singapore Road Safety Council to launch the Singapore Road Safety Award to recognise fleet owners that are committed to improving road safety. I also chair the Safer Roads Industry Taskforce (SRIT) together with Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim. The SRIT is a platform for us to engage key stakeholders, including the private bus operators that Ms Tin spoke about, on road safety initiatives for vocational drivers.

6. Our overall strategy for road safety has served us well. Between 2003 and 2013, our road traffic fatality rate fell by over 40% to 2.9 fatalities per 100,000 persons. In response to Mr Gan’s query on how we fair in global rankings on road safety, it is unfortunately not meaningful to rely on international rankings for road safety as various jurisdictions adopt different definitions in measuring accident statistics. Instead, it is more important that we keep a close watch over our accident trends over time and continually review our policies, review our enforcement and review our education measures so that we can continue to improve road safety. 

Enforcement of Traffic Offences

7. Madam, I will now move on to address specific questions and comments from Members on enforcement. In particular, many Members have spoken on the expansion of the handphone driving offence and I would like to thank Members for their support. Indeed many Members have said that we have not gone far enough. Let me first clarify that the expanded offence will cover the use of any function of a mobile communicative device. The examples raised by Mr Lim and Mr Gerald Giam – of playing games, reading e-books on a mobile communication device, or reading downloaded emails and documents – will indeed be captured under the new offence, if the driver holds the device in one hand while the vehicle is in motion.

8. Several Members, such as Mr Zainal, Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Gan, Mr Giam, Mr Hri Kumar and Mr Lim, have asked whether we should have broadened the scope of the handphone driving offence beyond what has been proposed. 

9. As a principle, drivers should be focused on driving and not be distracted at any time. Like Mr Gan, we are just as concerned about distracted driving. Madam, the proliferation in the use of mobile devices such as handphones and their expanded range of functions – trends which Ms Tin Pei Ling had also highlighted – explain why we proposed broadening the scope of the handphone driving offence. However, we also recognise that it is neither possible nor practical for the law to specify all the actions, and even devices, that could potentially distract the driver. Our proposed approach for the handphone driving offence is consistent with that taken in other jurisdictions such as Hong Kong which do not permit the use of mobile communication devices while the vehicle is in motion but generally allow the use of hands-free sets and operation of mounted or in-built devices. As Mr Zainal and Mr Kumar have pointed out, other jurisdictions such as the UK and some Australian states go a step further to prohibit the use of handphones in stationary vehicles. Mr Zainal had also asked whether we should prohibit driving instructors from using their mobile devices while conducting classes for learner drivers. The driving schools have been advised by TP that their instructors should refrain from doing so when conducting driving classes. This has been a long-standing practice. 

10. To sum up our approach with respect to defining the scope of the handphone driving offence, we have deliberately decided to take a measured approach in tightening the rules on handphone driving. But we will continue to monitor the situation after the new changes come into effect and study the practices of other jurisdictions as they evolve to deal with other types of smart devices that are being developed. 

11. Nonetheless, I would like to emphasise that regardless of the scope of this offence, it is the individual responsibility of every motorist to display a duty of care on our roads. Mr Zainal and Mr Kumar had asked whether exemptions could be granted, for instance, to allow the use of handphones in emergency situations. As far as possible, motorists, even in emergency situations, should find a place to stop before making the call. Within the Home Team, police officers who drive or ride alone are required to pull over to the side of the road if they need to use a handphone, even in emergency situations. That said, each case is assessed based on its individual circumstances, no different from how other traffic offences are enforced. 

12. Ms Tin and Mr Gan, had suggested raising the penalties for the offence of handphone driving. Our assessment is that the current penalties provided within the RTA are sufficient. A motorist who commits this offence will be fined $200 and given 12 demerit points. If he is charged in court, he can face maximum penalties of up to $1,000 fine and up to 6 months imprisonment as a first-time offender. The maximum penalties for repeat offenders are double that for first-time offenders. These penalties should also be seen within the context of the overall increase in TP enforcement, which taken together, serve to deter such behaviour.

13. On the broader issue of distracted driving, TP may take action against motorists for the offence of inconsiderate driving under section 65 of the RTA, as mentioned by Mr Singh, if they display irresponsible road use behaviour. The offence carries a penalty of up to $1,000 fine and/or up to 6 months imprisonment for first time offenders convicted in court, who may also face disqualification. In response to Mr Singh’s question, there were 6,527 and 3,220 cases of inconsiderate driving in 2013 and in the first half of 2014 respectively. However, TP does not track which cases can be specifically attributed to distracted driving as there may be several factors that can contribute to inconsiderate driving. 

Public Education and Driver Competency 

14. Madam, a third theme running across several Members’ speeches relates to public education and driver competency. Allow me to address these points in turn. 

Road Safety Education & Outreach

15. Mr Ang Hin Kee and Ms Tin said that education and enforcement need to work in tandem. I agree. These are part of the mutually reinforcing thrusts under the SRS roadmap. Mr Ang also asked the Government to provide greater support to the Singapore Road Safety Council on its education initiatives. In practice, TP works very closely with the Council and supports many of its outreach efforts, such as annual road safety campaigns. In addition to funding provided by MHA, the Singapore Road Safety Council has also been very active in raising funds from the community and its key stakeholders in support of its efforts. This is encouraging and also reflects the principle of shared responsibility for road safety. Mr Lim asked if we could emphasise road safety education for the vulnerable road users, including students and the elderly. In fact, TP already conducts targeted outreach to educate these vulnerable groups about road safety. In 2013, TP had conducted talks for over 90,000 young and elderly persons and also organised 70 exhibitions for these groups. We will do more. I would also like to inform Mr Kumar that during the engagements with young children, TP also emphasises the importance of wearing seat belts or child-seats. These form part of TP’s overall preventive education efforts that Ms Tin and Mr Kumar asked about.

16. Specifically on public education on the dangers of handphone driving, I think it is important to put this in context. There are many other types of behaviour that contribute to distracted driving, which several Members have alluded to. Mr Ang and Mr Gan will be happy to know that the dangers of handphone driving are already an essential part of TP’s general road safety education efforts on distracted driving. Learner motorists are also taught, from the onset, the dangers of distracted driving as part of their basic theory education. 

Driver Competency

17. Madam, education also plays a key part in ensuring driver competency and I am glad that Mr Ang and Ms Tin support the introduction of the Safe Driving Course (SDC). Mr Ang has suggested that the SDC curriculum should incorporate inputs from behavioural experts and also show videos of road accidents. The SDC was developed by TP’s testers, in close collaboration with the driving schools, to focus on correcting bad driving habits. Students will undergo lessons on basic driving theory, including defensive driving, as well as practical driving, before taking the theory and practical tests. They will also view videos on traffic accidents to discuss common mistakes made by motorists and to identify learning points.

18. Mr Lim has asked about the intent of the amendment to section 35A. The amendments to sections 35A and 45 will allow Minister to prescribe situations where TP will be allowed to cancel demerit points. The intent is to allow TP to recognise good behaviour. The application of these amendments will be confined to situations, such as the passing of the SDC, that the Minister specifically prescribes. It will not apply to appeals for individual cases. The SDC allows for early intervention and re-training of motorists and will equip motorists with the relevant defensive driving skills. We have made the SDC voluntary, rather than mandatory, as it is the individual responsibility of each motorist to be proactive in improving his own driving habits. 

19. Mr Giam and Mr Lim raised some questions about the licensing requirements for foreign drivers. Singapore is signatory to international treaties on the recognition of driving licences, which allows Singaporeans holding Singapore-issued licences to drive in other countries. In return, we accord the same privileges to foreigners who are temporarily in Singapore holding driving licences issued by signatory countries. We have also studied the practices of other jurisdictions. Many allow non-tourist foreigners to drive with their foreign licences for a designated period. This can range from a month to 12 months. We have decided on 6 months, which is consistent with countries like Germany. In enforcing this provision, TP may require an extract of the driving licence records from the overseas licensing authority, for instance, when TP has reason to believe that the licence had been forged or tampered with. 

 20. Mr Lim commented on the tightened licensing requirements for foreign vocational drivers. Vocational drivers spend long hours on the road and owe a greater duty of care as they may ferry passengers or goods. The policy intent behind our requirement for foreign vocational drivers to obtain a local driving licence is to ensure that they are competent and understand our traffic laws when they drive on our roads. This is also why, in response to Mr Lim’s comments, the law will apply to all work pass holders whether they drive full-time or are asked to ferry passengers or goods on an ad hoc basis as part of their work. For example, a warehouse assistant who may have to deliver goods at times as part of his job would still be required to obtain a local licence. 

Expectations of Responsible Road Use

21. Madam, I will now move on to the fourth theme. This pertains to responsible road use. 

22. We will introduce the rebuttable presumption regime, which allows TP to presume that a vehicle owner was responsible for the commission of a traffic offence if he does not provide the driver’s particulars. I would like to assure Mr Lim that TP endeavours to inform vehicle owners promptly after a traffic offence is detected. TP is also on track in installing almost 260 additional digital red light and speed cameras by the first half of 2015. This will further speed up TP’s processing time for these traffic offences. I must emphasise, however, that it is still ultimately the duty of vehicle owners to ensure responsible use of their vehicles, keep track of those who use their vehicles and assist with the administration of justice. They too, have a part to play in road safety.

23. I would like to thank Mr Gan for supporting the amendment to clarify the expected behaviour of drivers involved in accidents when there is no one else around. He asked particularly if there should be a legal obligation for a driver to contact a relevant agency to treat an animal injured in an accident. The objective of this provision in the RTA is to ensure restitution for victims of accidents – in this case, the owner of the animal. Drivers should also first ensure that it is safe to stop before contacting any other party for assistance or when they want to assist the animals. Nevertheless, we thank Mr Gan for his question and would encourage drivers who hit animals to contact the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). 

Other Road Safety Issues

24. Before I conclude, let me address some of the other issues that Mr Ang has raised. I agree with him about the importance of road design in keeping our roads safe. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) regularly reviews and audits the design of Singapore’s roads. For example, LTA’s Black Spot Programme tracks locations with a high incidence of traffic accidents, and introduces customised road engineering treatments to reduce the number and severity of accidents. 

25. Mr Ang has also cited examples of fleet owners that have proactively installed road safety vehicular technologies. These are indeed worthy efforts. Such technologies not only improve road safety, but also raise productivity by reducing accidents, downtime, as well as repair, maintenance and insurance costs. The Government has helped to encourage companies adopt such devices. For example, the Singapore Transport Association and SPRING Singapore recently collaborated to launch the Mobileye advanced driver awareness system to about 100 transportation and logistics companies. SPRING provided funding through its Capability Development Grant to help SMEs defray the costs of adopting Mobileye. I hope that more companies will recognise the broader benefits of adopting such vehicular technology. 

Conclusion

26. To conclude, Madam Speaker, I have spoken on the importance of individual, and shared, responsibility in ensuring that our roads remain safe for all. We have also consulted with Singapore Road Safety Council and Automobile Assocation of Singapore. Every road user has a part to play. I have also highlighted the importance of education and enforcement under the broader SRS roadmap. I am thus heartened that Members support the proposed amendments. These amendments will ensure that TP has the necessary legislative levers to continue to keep our roads safe for all road users. 

 27. With that, Madam, I beg to move.