askST: Will proposed changes to the law deter road rage?

There are currently no specific criminal offences relating to road rage. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Unhappy that he was honked at for cutting lanes, a motorcyclist got into an argument with the driver who had blasted his horn. After a heated exchange, the motorcyclist used his motorbike to hit the rear of the driver's car.

While this might seem like a classic case of road rage, the police were unable to classify it as such, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said.

The motorcyclist had committed a rash act that endangered the life or personal safety of others - a crime that carries a fine of up to $2,500 and up to six months' jail.

But the offence is not among the 14 offences that constitute road rage under current traffic laws. A Bill introduced in Parliament on April 5 seeks to change this.

The Straits Times looks at what the proposed law - which is set to be debated when Parliament next sits from May 10 - could mean for motorists who see red.

Q: What are the current laws for road rage?

A: There are no specific criminal offences relating to road rage, although the acts committed by parties in such cases could come under other offences like voluntarily causing hurt or harassment.

However, under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act, the courts can disqualify these offenders from driving if the cases meet certain conditions.

This is in addition to the penalties meted out for criminal offences they are convicted of.

The conditions for disqualification are:

• The offender was driving a vehicle at the time;

• The victim was a driver, cyclist, passenger or pedestrian;

• The offence involved a dispute over the use of a road or public place;

• The court decides it is undesirable for the offender to be allowed to drive; and

• The offender was convicted of one of 14 prescribed offences, such as voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint or causing death by a rash act.

Q: What are the changes being proposed?

A: MHA wants to expand the list of prescribed offences under the Road Traffic Act to include any offence under any written law. This is because there are offences that were previously not in the list but may be considered as road rage behaviour, the ministry told The Straits Times.

Invictus Law Corporation associate director Cory Wong said road rage cases involving non-violent offences under the Protection From Harassment Act, such as hurling abusive language, could attract disqualification if the proposed changes are passed into law.

Other offences that are just shy of actual violence, such as criminal intimidation, could also lead to a driving ban. A common example is arming oneself with a golf club or spanner to confront the other party.

However, the proposed changes will not cover acts such as swerving or high-beaming, Mr Wong said.

The latter is unlikely to be an offence in itself, while swerving would in some cases constitute dangerous driving or driving without due care, which already carries a penalty of disqualification.

Q: Why make the change?

A: If passed, the proposed amendment will help to better deter road rage cases, said Mr Wong.

"The proposed law would cover limitless factual permutations of road rage. Offenders can no longer get away with committing offences that fall outside of the current prescribed list but still cause disturbance to the public peace on the roads."

Mr Justin Ng, an associate from Kalco Law, said the proposed change was only a matter of time.

"The list of specified offences served the old regime where traffic offences were prosecuted mainly under the Penal Code such as rash and negligent act offences.

"After Parliament consolidated these traffic offences under the Road Traffic Act from November 2019, it makes sense to amend Section 42 as well," he said.

Mr Wong suspects negative public sentiment towards irresponsible road users also played a part. "I won't be surprised if drivers and owners of illegally modified vehicles are next in line to be reined in."

Q: What is the likely impact?

A: Kalco Law's Mr Ng said the impact will likely be conservative. "The (current) specified offences are quite broad and capture the majority of cases," he said.

He encounters only one or two road rage cases a year that fall outside of the current prescribed list.

Mr Wong said it remains to be seen how the courts will implement the proposed amendment if it is passed. Judges still retain the discretion not to impose disqualification as it is not mandatory, he said.

Even if disqualification were to be imposed for road rage cases involving only harassment, it is not clear how long the period of disqualification will be.

"It would make sense that any period of disqualification for harassment cannot be as high as for more serious offences like assault," said Mr Wong. "Would one month, three months, or even six months be sufficient? It remains to be seen."

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