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Singapore – Stricter Road Traffic Offences: Three Take-Aways.

16 October, 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore  Regulatory & Compliance

 

On 8 September 2014, several amendments to the Road Traffic Act (“the Act”) were passed by the Singapore Parliament. Among the changes to the licensing regime for foreign vocational drivers and measures to enhance the competency of general motorists, the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill (“the Bill”) introduced stricter requirements for three existing road traffic offences:

 

  • Use of mobile communication device while driving (s 65B);
  • Duty to give information (s 81); and
  • Duty to stop in case of accident (s 84).

 
This article compares the broader scope of the three offences with the existing regime, which will be of interest not only to motorists, but also to vehicle owners and road users.

 
Use Of Mobile Communication Device While Driving

 
Current Position

 
Known colloquially as the offence of handphone driving, s 65B of the Act makes it an offence for a driver of a motor vehicle on a road or in a public place to use a mobile telephone while the motor vehicle is in motion. First-time offenders may be fined up to SGD 1k or imprisoned for up to 6 months or to both, while offenders with second or subsequent convictions may be fined up to SGD 2k or imprisoned for up to 12 months or to both.

 
New Position

 
The new s 65B retains the essence of the offence, but replaces the term “mobile telephone” with a broader term “mobile communication device”. The new 65B makes it an offence for a driver of a motor vehicle to use a mobile communication device while the motor vehicle is in motion on a road or in a public place.

 
Under the new s 65B(3):

 

  • “mobile communication device” includes a mobile telephone and any hand-held device which is designed or capable of being used for a communicative function”;
  • “communicative function” means any of the following functions:

(a) sending or receiving oral or written messages;
(b) sending or receiving electronic documents;

(c) sending or receiving still or moving images;
(d) sending or receiving audio or video files; or
(e) providing access to the Internet.

  • a driver is considered to “use” a mobile communication device if he holds it in at least one hand while operating any of its functions.

 
At the Second Reading of the Bill on 8 September 2014, the Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr Masagos Zulkifli (“Mr Zulkifli”), explained that mobile communication devices include devices such as tablet computers and that the new s 65B “will cover the use of any function of a mobile communicati[on] device”. Thus, playing games, reading e-books or downloaded emails and documents or Internet-surfing on a mobile communication device would be caught by the new s 65B if the driver holds the device in one hand while the vehicle is in motion.

 
The penalties under the new s 65B remain unchanged, but a new definition of a “repeat offender” has been introduced to mean a person who is convicted or found guilty of an offence under the new s 65B (“the current offence”) and:

 
(a) was previously convicted or found guilty of an offence under the new s 65B; or

 
(b) was previously convicted of an offence under s 65B (as in force immediately before the new s 65B comes into force)

 
on at least one previous occasion before the date he was convicted or found guilty of the current offence.

 
Duty To Give Information

 
Current Position

 
Under s 81(1) of the Act, where a driver of a motor vehicle is alleged or is suspected to be guilty of an offence under the Act (“the Driver”), the owner of the motor vehicle must give information to the relevant authorities regarding the identity and address of the Driver and driving licence held by the Driver.

 
If the owner fails to disclose the Driver’s particulars within 7 days, he would be guilty of an offence unless the court is satisfied that he has proved that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained the Driver’s particulars. A similar offence is prescribedin s 81(2) vis-à-vis non-disclosure by any other person who was or should have been in charge of the motor vehicle.

 
Where the owner is a company, a partnership or an unincorporated body, the owner must also prove to the court’s satisfaction that it had kept proper and accurate records, which revealed that the owner had not permitted any person to drive the motor vehicle at or about the time of the alleged offence: s 81(1A) of the Act.

 
New Position

 
The new s 81 retains the essence of the offence currently found under s 81(1), save that the owner will now have 14 days to disclose the Driver’s particulars (which also applies to disclosure required of any other person who was or should have been in charge of the motor vehicle under the new s 81(2)) and the standard of proof required to justify non-disclosure is expressly stated to be on a balance of probabilities.

 
The key difference is, as mentioned at the Second Reading of the Bill, that s 81 introduces a “rebuttable presumption regime”, where the owner is presumed to have committed the principal offence if he fails to provide the Traffic Police with the Driver’s particulars. In this regard, s 81(1B) provides that if the owner fails to disclose the Driver’s particulars under the new s 81(1A), he is presumed, until the contrary is proved, to be driving the motor vehicle at the material time. Notably, as observed by Mr Zulkifli, s 81(1B) applies only to “selected compoundable and driver-related traffic offences specified in the new Part I of the Third Schedule”, for instance, “speeding and red-running”.

 
Duty To Stop In Case Of Accident

 
Current Position

 
To deter hit-and-run incidents, s 84(1) of the Act requires a driver involved in an accident to stop, where damage or injury is caused to any person, vehicle, structure or animal. He is then required to give to any person having reasonable grounds for so requiring, his name and address, as well as the name and address of the owner and the identification marks of the motor vehicle. If he does not do so, he must report the accident to the police as soon as reasonably practicable and within 24 hours: s 84(2) of the Act.

 
New Position

 
As noted by Mr Zulkifli at the Second Reading of the Bill, the new s 84(1) retains the requirement for the driver to stop following anaccident and give his particulars (defined under the amended s 84(6)) to authorised persons at the scene of the accident, but additionally requires “the driver to take reasonable steps to provide his particulars to the owner even when no one is around to request for such information”. Specifically, s 84(1)(b) provides that “the driver must take reasonable steps to inform the owner (if any) of the damaged vehicle or structure, or injured animal, of the damage or injury caused to the vehicle, structure or animal (as the case may be), and provide that owner with the driver’s particulars”.

 
Similarly, the new s 84(2) retains the requirement for the driver to report the accident to the police unless he is first contacted by the owner or has provided his particulars to any authorised person present at the scene of the accident.

 
At the Second Reading of the Bill, Mr Zulkifli cited the example of a driver hitting a car in a carpark. Under the new s 84, he noted that “the driver should leave a note on the damaged car with his particulars” and “must report the accident to the police as soon as reasonably practicable and within 24 hours unless he is first contacted by the owner”.

 
Comment

 
Generally, the amendments to ss 65B, 81 and 84 of the Act do not affect the essence of the current offences or the architecture of the Act. Certain nuances have, however, been introduced by the amendments.

 
Firstly, the crux of the new s 65B offence is the driver’s “use” of the mobile communication device by holding the device in one hand while operating any of its functions. Here, a “function” of the mobile communication device is not limited to the term “communicative function” as defined under s 65B(3), but would include a non-communicative function such as reading an e-book. In this regard, the Explanatory Statement to the Bill states that the new s 65B “extends the offence to the use by the driver of the hand-held device’s non-communicative functions”. The new s 65B therefore makes it more stringent and onerous on drivers, by prohibiting any use of the mobile communication device that distracts the driver while driving, even if such use is not for the purpose of a “communicative function”.

 

Secondly, as noted at the Second Reading of the Bill, the new s 81 “reinforces the duty of vehicle owners to ensure responsible use of their vehicles, and to assist with the administration of justice”. Owners cannot hide behind a cloak of ignorance or refuse to give the Driver’s particulars to the authorities when they are in a position to do so. The new rebuttable presumption regime will turn the tables on such owners as they would be deemed to be driving the vehicle at the material time. Rebutting the presumption may not be an easy task in practice, unless the owner is able to provide evidence to prove that he was not the driver at the material time.

 
In a similar vein, drivers who intend to hit and run after an accident when no one is watching should be mindful that the legal onus is now on them to give their particulars to the owner and report the accident to the police, unless they have already provided their particulars at the scene itself or had been contacted by the owner. Legal advice should be sought if drivers are unclear about the “reasonable steps” that they must take to inform the owner under the new s 84(1)(b).

 

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For further information, please contact:

 

Subhas Anandan, Partner, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing
subhas.a@rhtlawtaylorwessing.com

 
Sunil Sudheesan, Partner, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing
sunil.s@rhtlawtaylorwessing.com

 
Diana Ngiam, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing
diana.ngiam@rhtlawtaylorwessing.com

 

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