Poor maintenance, fatal crashes: 'Hold heavy vehicle owners liable'

While current laws cover different aspects of road safety involving heavy vehicles, none of them address mechanical failures stemming from poor maintenance that can lead to accidents.
While current laws cover different aspects of road safety involving heavy vehicles, none of them address mechanical failures stemming from poor maintenance that can lead to accidents. PHOTO: ST FILE

Owners of heavy vehicles should be held responsible in cases where mechanical failures stemming from poor maintenance lead to fatal accidents.

Filing an adjournment motion at the end of Parliament's session yesterday, Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) cited cases from last year, such as a dislodged wheel from a trailer truck hitting and killing a motorcyclist in March, and brake failure on a private bus leading it to hit and kill a cyclist in July.

There is a gap in the laws governing this area, he said. "In such fatal accidents caused by mechanical failure, as opposed to driver negligence or recklessness, these are often ruled as misadventures and there is little that the authorities can presently do to impose criminal liability for the accidents, though civil remedies such as insurance claims remain available."

This state of affairs is unsatisfactory as those responsible for maintaining the vehicles escape criminal liability, he added. Common types of mechanical failures include malfunctioning brakes and faulty steering systems.

He said current laws cover different aspects of road safety involving heavy vehicles, but none of them addresses this aspect.

Mr Murali said the police and the Manpower Ministry's recommendations for heavy vehicle owners to maintain their vehicles according to manufacturers' recommendations, and hold daily checks before starting work, are limited in effectiveness as they are not mandatory.

"It is time for us to close these gaps, such as to mandate compliance with the manufacturer's maintenance schedule, the keeping of maintenance records and the conduct of daily pre-operational checks," he added.

TIME TO CLOSE GAPS

It is time for us to close these gaps, such as to mandate compliance with the manufacturer's maintenance schedule, the keeping of maintenance records and the conduct of daily pre-operational checks.

MR MURALI PILLAI

He said imposing criminal liability on owners and operators of heavy vehicles for mechanical failures that lead to fatal accidents, would deter them from skipping the proper checks.

In response, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said on top of regular inspections, the Land Transport Authority and the Traffic Police also call up vehicles for ad hoc inspections.

Statutory life spans are also imposed on heavy vehicles, with most subject to a maximum statutory life span of 20 years, and heavily used public buses to 17 years.

He said it was not necessary to be prescriptive about the maintenance of heavy vehicles, given the frequent and stringent inspection regime. "We take an outcome-based approach which balances the imperative to create a safe working and commuting environment with the regulatory burden on vehicle owners," he said, adding that this allows for the quick adoption of new technologies.

Dr Janil said that in 2016 and 2017, there were 85 fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles on the roads and at worksites, of which under 5 per cent involved mechanical failures. "More often, heavy vehicle accidents are caused by the driving behaviour," he noted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2018, with the headline 'Poor maintenance, fatal crashes: 'Hold heavy vehicle owners liable''. Print Edition | Subscribe