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Proposed amendment to Road Traffic Act makes using or holding mobile devices while driving an offence

*Proposed Bill would apply to tablet computers *Includes surfing the Net and downloading material

Published on Aug 6, 2014 6:56 AM
 
A poll of 140 motorists by The Sunday Times last year found that about seven in 10 admitted to using their phones while driving - even though most knew it was against the law. Most said they took calls and read text messages while driving, but there were also those who played games and went on Facebook. -- ST FILE PHOTO

Anyone caught using any function of his mobile device and holding it while driving could be found guilty of committing an offence, under proposed changes to improve road safety.

This includes not just communicating with someone else via calls or texts, which are offences under existing law, but also surfing the Internet, visiting social media platforms and downloading videos.

The new rules would apply not just to phones but also all mobile communication devices, such as iPads, under the broadened Road Traffic Act. The proposed amendments to the Act, tabled in Parliament on Monday, come amid a rise in phone-and-drive offences.

There were 3,572 summonses issued for such offences last year, up 21.6 per cent from 2,938 in 2012, according to Traffic Police figures.

In the first half of this year, 1,761 summonses were issued, compared with 1,700 issued in the same period last year. First-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and/or jailed for up to six months. Repeat offenders get up to double the penalty.

The new Bill "will strengthen (the) Traffic Police's enforcement powers, enhance competency of drivers, as well as clarify the expected behaviour of vehicle owners and motorists on responsible road use", the Ministry of Home Affairs said. The changes are expected to be debated at the next Parliamentary sitting.

Associate Professor Gopinath Menon, who teaches transportation engineering at Nanyang Technological University, welcomed the proposed changes.

"Some drivers use their tablet devices for checking e-mail because of the bigger screen, and they may even perform multiple tasks with their tablets," he said. "Any type of distraction won't be good for drivers."

Last year, a street poll of 140 motorists by The Sunday Times found that about seven in 10 admitted to using their phones while driving. This is even though most knew it was against the law.

Most respondents said they took calls and read text messages while driving, but there were also those who played games and used social media like Facebook.

While it is an offence when a driver holds a phone and uses it to communicate with someone else, it is not against the law to use the phone if it is mounted on a holder. This will apply to other mobile devices as well, under the new Bill.

Other amendments in the new Bill include a requirement for work pass holders who need to drive as part of their jobs to obtain a local driving licence within six months after their work passes had been issued.

This could affect some industries, such as construction.

BD CraneTech director Jeffrey Lim said more details will be needed as this could affect work pass holders differently, depending on their country of origin.

For example, those from India can convert their international driving licences to local ones. "This should not take too long, and they would still be able to meet the (proposed) requirement within six months," said Mr Lim.

But others from places like Myanmar or Bangladesh cannot do so and have to take theory and practical tests in Singapore, he added.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said the amendment is to ensure that "motorists, local and foreign, are familiar with Singapore's traffic rules and conditions, and are sufficiently competent to drive on our roads". It last amended the Road Traffic Act in 2010.

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

Background story

3,572

The number of summons issued to motorists using their cellphones while driving last year

2,938

In 2012

2,817

In 2011

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