Why It Matters

Getting tougher on drink driving

When a driver who killed four people on the Central Expressway while high on drugs was sentenced to five years in jail and a 20-year driving ban last year, netizens decried his punishment, saying he got off lightly. His punishment - the maximum under the law - was lighter when compared with that in other countries, such as Australia.

Now, Singapore's laws are set to get tougher, with an upcoming review.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, said on Thursday that the Government "will seek to increase the penalties for offences that result in death or hurt to others", especially in cases where drivers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or are repeat offenders.

With the festive season approaching, drink driving remains a concern, he said, although the number of arrests - at 1,540 motorists from January to September - has dipped by 13 per cent over the same period last year.

Still, there were 103 drink-driving-related accidents in the first three quarters of the year, which resulted in three deaths and 153 people being injured.

The maximum penalty for driving while one's alcohol level is over the legal limit is a $5,000 fine or six months' jail on a first conviction. Under the Road Traffic Act, causing death by reckless or dangerous driving draws a maximum jail term of five years.

These penalties pale in comparison with those overseas. In Queensland, Australia, it is up to 10 years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving. In Britain, there is a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if the accused is proven to have been "grossly negligent".

At the heart of issues like drink driving is the fact that it can be avoided by simply being more responsible. And the hope is that tougher laws will push more people to think twice before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

"The courts take a dim view of drink driving, and they have been calling for stiffer penalties. There's no excuse at all," said criminal lawyer Shashi Nathan from Withers KhattarWong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'Getting tougher on drink driving'. Print Edition | Subscribe