Harsher penalties on the cards for driving offences

The two new offences under the Road Traffic Act will correspond broadly to offences of rash act and negligent act under the Penal Code.
The two new offences under the Road Traffic Act will correspond broadly to offences of rash act and negligent act under the Penal Code.PHOTO: ST FILE

Two new classes of offences, longer jail terms among proposed changes; fines will also go up

Reckless and irresponsible motorists will find themselves staring at longer jail terms and steeper fines and possibly have their vehicles seized, as the authorities look to harden the law to make roads safer.

Dangerous driving and careless driving will be introduced as two new offences, with drivers charged with the more serious dangerous driving facing up to eight years for the first offence if a victim is killed - three years more than under current laws.

The driver could also face up to two more years in jail if under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And for egregious cases of irresponsible driving, the prosecution can apply to the courts to forfeit the vehicle.

Revealing these proposed changes to the Road Traffic Act (RTA) yesterday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development Sun Xueling said: "We want to increase the penalties for motorists who drive irresponsibly and cause serious accidents.

"This will deter them and ensure that they receive sentences that are commensurate with the harm they caused."

The difference between dangerous and careless driving will depend on factors such as whether the motorist was driving at excessively high speeds or very close to others.

Each offence will have four tiers of severity, depending on the harm caused, such as death, grievous hurt, hurt and endangering a life.

 
 
 
 

For dangerous driving, offenders will face a minimum sentence of at least a year if death or grievous hurt is caused, and courts will also be able to impose a minimum disqualification period of eight years. The jail term will be doubled for repeat offenders.

Those convicted of careless driving may face up to three years in jail for the first offence, with sentences for repeat offenders doubled. This is up from the current jail term of a maximum of six months for first-time offenders.

"The basis for higher penalties is that motorists, being in control of a vehicle that they know can potentially cause great harm to other road users, ought to exercise greater care and responsibility," the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement yesterday.

Current laws allow vehicle seizures only in certain situations, such as illegal racing, but this could change. "We think we should be able to forfeit vehicles for more offences. For example, in cases of dangerous driving that cause death or grievous hurt," said Ms Sun.

From April 1, the composition fine sums for road traffic offences are also being raised. For instance, a car driver who runs a red light will be fined $400, double the current $200.

For drivers of heavy vehicles, the fine will go up from $230 to $500. Pedestrians who fail to cross at a pedestrian crossing face a $50 fine, more than double the current $20, while cyclists will be fined $75 for careless riding instead of $20.

Ms Sun said the last time the fines were reviewed was about 20 years ago.

"The increase in composition fines for heavy vehicles will be higher than that of light vehicles. This is because heavy vehicles are more likely than light vehicles to cause death or serious injury when they are involved in accidents," she said.

The proposed tougher laws come amid growing feedback on the issue from the public. The Traffic Police received 18,500 instances of such feedback about irresponsible driving last year, compared with 6,900 in 2014.

The number of summonses issued has also risen despite fewer road traffic accidents seen in the past five years, MHA said.

Between 2015 and last year, the number of summonses issued by the Traffic Police rose by a fifth, from 152,700 to 181,000.

There were 22 per cent fewer fatal accidents last year, compared with 2014. Similarly, the number of accidents resulting in injury dipped 3.6 per cent in the same period.

MHA has invited the public to submit feedback on the proposed amendments to the RTA, which can be seen on Reach, the Government's feedback portal. The feedback platform is open until March 13.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2019, with the headline 'Harsher penalties on the cards for driving offences'. Print Edition | Subscribe