In-vehicle alert system to help cabbies stay safe

In a bid to boost road safety, taxi drivers will receive alerts whenever they are approaching red lights and speed cameras.

Audio and visual warnings will be issued through the mobile display terminal (MDT) in their cars.

The initiative, announced yesterday, is aimed at reducing the number of accidents and traffic violations among cabbies - a group the Traffic Police (TP) has identified as vulnerable owing to the long hours they spend on the road.

The MDT alerts, triggered when cabbies are about 500m away from a traffic enforcement camera, will be rolled out in more than 20,500 taxis from ComfortDelGro and SMRT, accounting for 74 per cent of taxis here.

ComfortDelGro will update the MDTs of its 17,000-strong fleet from next month, while SMRT will do so for its 3,500 taxis from next year.

MDTs are already installed in most taxis, and cabbies use them to take bookings or get updates from their companies.

The National Taxi Association and the TP are hoping the island's other three operators - Trans-Cab, Premier and Prime - which run a combined 7,300 taxis, will also come on board.

TP commander Sam Tee said: "TP sees taxi drivers as a vulnerable group... partly because they spend many hours on the road."

The new MDT feature will allow cabbies "to be alerted... drive safe, and not get into traffic summons situations". He added that cabbies will also get real-time updates of nearby traffic accidents.

Land Transport Authority data showed that most cab firms were unable to consistently meet a safety service standard - that there should be no more than 0.02 accident per 100,000km clocked each month.

Over a six-month period from April to September last year, SMRT failed the standard three times, Premier and Prime each fell short twice, and Comfort, once. CityCab, which is run by ComfortDelGro, and Trans-Cab passed the standard for all six months.

Ms Edna Tan, head of partner relations at SMRT Taxis, said cabbies running red lights are a major cause of accidents. The new MDT feature will hopefully address this problem, she said.

Taxi drivers have to fork out between $3,000 and $5,000 in insurance excess when they meet with an accident. "So one accident will actually wipe out the whole month of a driver's income, so we are very concerned," said Ms Tan.

The new alert system could help. A six-month pilot from October last year to March this year for 3,800 taxis from ComfortDelGro saw significant improvement in driving behaviour.

Speeding violations decreased by 40 per cent, compared with the pre-trial period from April to September last year. Cases of running red lights dropped by 34 per cent.

Cabby Tommy Ong, 62, said: "When you are talking to the passenger, sometimes your mind is 'off'. This thing comes in handy, when it prompts you of a speed trap or red light camera. I'll be more mindful of the situation."

Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said the Ministry of Home Affairs will study whether cars in the private- hire industry - operating under apps such as Uber and Grab - could also have such alerts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'In-vehicle alert system to help cabbies stay safe'. Print Edition | Subscribe