Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Parliament: Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill (Pritam Singh) – 8 September 2014

Mdm Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on this Bill, which I support. Nonetheless, I seek clarifications from the Senior Minister of State on clause 14 in particular.

Clause 14 of the Bill re-enacts section 65B to cover all handheld devices which are designed or capable of being used for a communicative function. This extends an offence to the use of a device’s non-communicative functions such as surfing on the Internet, visiting social media platforms and downloading videos. The new laws are envisaged to apply to devices such as tablets computers and any communicative device, not only mobile phones. The proposed law does not explicitly ban the use of such devices if they are mounted on the dashboard or windscreens of vehicles or if they are used at traffic junctions. Some motorists have remarked this would mean it would not be illegal to type out an email on a device which has been mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard while driving along a busy road.

As far as the Bill stands, a driver could conceivably type out an email while driving as long as the device is mounted and he would not fall foul of section 65B. I am not sure whether this is necessarily a better way to reduce the number of distractions a driver can fall victim to, especially if Members consider the fast pace of life in Singapore and our increasingly crowded roads. To this end, a part-time taxi driver was quoted in TheStraits Times, musing, “What is the difference between holding the phone and mounting it in a holder? I have a holder and when I touch the phone on the holder, I am not concentrating. It is not an offence but it is still a distraction.”

While the taxi driver’s concerns are valid, a motorist could nonetheless fall foul of another section, namely, section 65 of the Act which metes out an offence of driving without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration. However, for an enforcement officer, in view of the broad “catch-all” ambit of section 65 of the Road Traffic Act, it would appear that it would take an egregious violator to result in a successful prosecution.

To this end, I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State: how many motorists have been summoned under the “catch-all” section 65 last year and the in first half of this year, with specific references to being distracted by mobile devices including tablets, for example?

Secondly, according to the National Safety Council in the United States, 23% of all crashes each year involve handphone use. I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State if the Ministry keeps similar statistics on the local situation and if he could share them with the House.

Mdm Speaker, while I welcome the clarity and updating of section 65B, this clause could have been more emphatic about the dangers of being distracted by communicative devices of any nature while driving a vehicle. Numerous local media reports since the Bill was first read in the House have noted that Singaporeans regularly use mobile phones and devices while driving, especially when waiting for the lights to change at traffic junctions. The President of the Automobile Association of Singapore, citing a 2013 American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah report, was quoted in TheStraits Times noting that the use of mobile devices could distract drivers in two ways: firstly, through inattention blindness, where drivers fail to visually process or remember what their eyes see; and secondly, through tunnel vision where drivers gaze centrally ahead instead of scanning their surroundings.

Foreign jurisdictions, in view of the danger surrounding the use of mobile devices while driving, host clearer laws with less ambiguity. It makes enforcement less subjective and more straightforward as well. For example, in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to drive using a handheld phone or similar device even if one has stopped at the traffic lights or is queuing in traffic. A driver can, nonetheless, use a hands-free kit, two-way radio or a satellite navigation device, but is nonetheless liable to be stopped and penalised if the Police think the driver is distracted and not in control of the vehicle. The laws are broadly similar in Australia. More fundamentally, under the re-enacted section 65B, an offence is only meted out if the motor vehicle is in motion akin to current legislation under the same section.

It would appear that this section’s re-enactment could have afforded the Ministry a better opportunity to send a stronger signal to the public on the dangers with regard to the use of communicative devices on the road per se.

To this end, I would like to enquire from the Senior Minister of State what deliberations took place in the Ministry when determining the amendments to section 65B on this point, especially when compared to the laws in foreign jurisdictions. What differences are present in foreign jurisdictions as compared to the local situation which merits our laws allowing the use of mobile devices and communicative devices now at traffic stops and junctions? Does this not encourage the continued use of the device should the signal change, perhaps just to type out the final line of an SMS or an email on a tablet mounted on the dashboard or, worse, send out an email while driving? If so, how effective is the law really in changing the behaviour of motorists on the road?

In conclusion, I certainly hope the amended section 65B arrests the prospect of errant drivers and, as a consequence, reduces the number of summons Singaporeans receive under section 65B. However, an approach targeted at behavioural change may well be more useful in getting motorists to improve their driving habits with the view to better road safety and separately, more straightforward enforcement as well. I hope the Ministry considers this going forward.

Written by singapore 2025

08/09/2014 at 7:52 am

Posted in Parliament

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