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A Shared Responsibility: Road Safety in Singapore

Updated: May 23


Image: Credits to Unsplash (Unsplash: Kylle Pangan) https://unsplash.com/photos/cars-on-road-near-high-rise-buildings-during-daytime--V02ls19eEU

In this Explainer, find out...

  • How safe are Singapore's roads today?

  • What are some policies to tackle unsafe driving behaviour?

  • How successful are these policies?


Introduction

In recent times, a series of headlines on road safety have reverberated throughout society, igniting a profound sense of concern about the prevailing status quo. The tragic accident in Tampines, resulting in the loss of two lives and injuries to six individuals, served as a poignant reminder of the stakes involved in ensuring road safety. ¹


Similarly, the revelation that red-light cameras detected a staggering 800 instances of speeding within just three weeks of activating their speed function added fuel to the discourse.² These events have prompted a critical examination of whether they represent isolated anomalies or indicative of a more systemic issue plaguing Singapore's roads. This Policy Explainer addresses this by analysing the road safety landscape in Singapore. We will also review the adequacy of various measures in place to safeguard public safety on the roads. 


Road Safety Today


We refer to the Annual Road Traffic Situation Report, a yearly release by the Singapore Police Force that explains salient trends, and efforts taken to increase road safety.


Trends and Causes


The 2023 report presents statistics and trends between 2019 and 2023. From 2019 to 2023, there is a fall in red-light running and speeding violations, common dangerous driving behaviours that can cause accidents and fatalities, as illustrated in Figure 1.³ This decrease could reflect increasing safety awareness of motorists, or the success of traffic-calming infrastructure.


Figure 1: Decreasing Red-Light Running 

and Speeding Violations


Greater scrutiny, however, reveals that fatal accidents from dangerous behaviours remain relatively high. As per Figure 2, fatal accidents arising from red-light running increased threefold between 2019 and 2023. Furthermore, despite lower traffic volumes during the pandemic, the number of fatal accidents remained relatively constant.⁴ 


Figure 2: Fatal Accidents Caused by

Red-Light Running


Meanwhile, as illustrated in Figure 3, the number of accidents caused by speeding increased by over 50 per cent during the pandemic. The number of fatal accidents caused by speeding also remained relatively high between 2019 and 2023, exceeding 25 in four of these five years.⁶


Figure 3: Accidents Caused by Speeding


Overall, this suggests that, while there is an increasing awareness among motorists, the severity of incidents has remained similar, if not greater. Several causes are likely to be blamed.


One of them is complacency. A 2019 survey reflected that respondents bore a “It’s not me, it’s them” mentality. Blame for poor road safety is often pushed to others. For instance, eight in ten drivers believe they signal early, but seven in ten drivers find that other motorists fail to do so.⁷ A likely second cause is optimism bias, more colloquially known as the “It will not happen to me” mentality. Research has long suggested that older, experienced drivers have a greater tendency to suffer from this bias.⁸ 


Both of these causes likely explain the high frequency of accidents in the pandemic years despite lower traffic volumes. Emptier roads might be misinterpreted for a lower likelihood of traffic accidents, thus encouraging dangerous driving behaviour like speeding.


Disproportionately Vulnerable


Accidents do not just implicate the driver; other road users are equally likely to be casualties. Worse, many of these road users may be more vulnerable in these accidents than the drivers themselves. This is because they are more exposed to physical dangers and thus more prone to suffer from worse injuries.


One of them are motorcyclists and pillion riders. This group of road users was involved in 53.5 per cent of traffic accidents in 2023. They also make up 50 per cent of traffic fatalities.⁹ Another disproportionately large group of casualties is elderly pedestrians. They account for 69.2 per cent of pedestrian fatalities in the same year.¹⁰


Road Traffic Policies


To tackle unsafe driving behaviour, a robust combination of strategies is much needed. They can be loosely categorised under deterrents and non-punitive policies.


Criminal Deterrence


Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham, and Gary Becker collectively contributed to the development of a comprehensive theory of criminal deterrence. Specifically, it asserts that a punishment’s effectiveness is dependent on three principles: 


i. The certainty of apprehension and punishment; 


ii. How swift consequences are imposed; and 


iii. The severity of the impact brought upon the offender by any given punishment. 


This Policy Explainer will focus on the first and third principles in designing relevant policies.


Certainty of Apprehension and Punishment


Singapore utilises advanced technology in traffic enforcement operations. This helps in capturing evidence of violations, thus enabling authorities to enforce regulations effectively. Today, speed enforcement functions can even be added to red-light cameras.¹¹ One newer technology is the speed laser camera, first deployed in 2016 at speeding hot spots.¹² It has since been used in ad-hoc anti-speeding enforcement operations.¹³


With the availability of more granular traffic data, policies and enforcement operations are also reviewed and updated to align with current trends. Newer and more effective technologies will also be prioritised for implementation at locations more prone to accidents or violations.¹⁴ 


Figure 4: Locations of SPF Enforcement Cameras 

(click on the image to access the interactive dashboard)



Law enforcement agencies also conduct regular patrols and spot checks on roads to detect and deter traffic violations.¹⁵ These patrols create a visible enforcement presence aimed at cultivating a sense of accountability among road users.


Severity of the Impact of Punishment


Traffic laws and regulations are outlined under the Road Traffic Act of 1961. Under the Act, different traffic offences warrant a specific number of demerit points. They are allocated based on their severity and potential impact on road safety. Upon committing any offence, demerit points are meted out. Besides speeding, red-light running and drunk driving, offences include


i. Disobeying traffic signs;


ii. Failing to use seat belts and child restraint systems; and


iii. Holding mobile phones while driving.


Upon exceeding a threshold number of demerit points within a period, driving licences may be suspended. Figure 5 outlines the different thresholds and lengths of suspension for each incidence of suspension.


Figure 5: Thresholds and Suspension Durations based on Demerit Points Issued¹⁶



Furthermore, under Section 64 of the Road Traffic Act, drivers could serve an imprisonment term between two and eight years for fatalities arising from reckless driving. 


Overall, the suspension of driving licences creates significant disruptions and inconveniences to many of these drivers’ lifestyles. Heavy fines and the possibility of imprisonment will also deter errant drivers. The high certainty of getting caught helps to amplify the deterrent effect against errant drivers.


Non-Punitive Measures


Designing and implementing technologies, as well as enforcement operations, can create significant costs in the long term. Other measures can help to cultivate safe driving behaviour on the roads. 


One important approach is building traffic-calming infrastructure. This includes roundabouts, speed humps, bends and narrower lanes. This tackles many unsafe behaviours like speeding and unsafe overtaking. They are widely implemented in Silver Zones, which are areas that have a high prevalence of elderly populations, and School Zones. Ultimately, they serve to protect vulnerable groups like the elderly and children.


Another approach is through education. Children undergo road safety programmes co-organised by the Traffic Police and the Ministry of Education.¹⁷ Learner drivers are also directed towards streamlined lessons at driving schools as private driving instructor licences are no longer issued.¹⁸


The Bumps on The Road


Fear, Caution, Courtesy


The Government has stressed that penalties such as demerit points and licence suspensions are already stiff.¹⁹ In fact, they are regularly revised to ensure the relevance of these measures.²⁰ The penalties are enforced through the use of cameras, which are usually implemented where accidents are more likely to happen. These induce a certain level of fear amongst the drivers to abide by the road traffic rules.


However, these fear-inducing effects may become unsustainable. Drivers would only slow down upon sight of these speed cameras, for instance, only to return to speeding outside camera zones.²¹ A more sustainable attitude should be one of courtesy rather than fear. This is especially so as Singapore tries to achieve its vision of being a gracious society.


In fact, the lack of courtesy is a growing cause for concern. As a highly dense city, congestion on our roads and expressways is inevitable. Drivers could become agitated due to new drivers, road hogging, or just because of a bad hair day. Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim also observed that some motorists tend to express impatience towards vehicles already moving near the speed limit.²² Anger and impatience on the roads is a potentially fatal combination that could lead to irresponsible and reckless behaviour. This puts both pedestrians and motorists at risk.


Traffic calming measures may therefore help to develop caution and courtesy. They are arguably successful. As of 2023, there are at least 30 Silver Zones islandwide since its first implementation in 2014. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) recorded a significant 80% fall in accidents involving elderly pedestrians in these zones. LTA intends to complete 50 such zones by 2025.²³


Pedestrians and Education


It also takes two hands to clap. Besides dangerous driving, reckless pedestrian behaviour sometimes plays a part in accidents. Arguments about right-of-way miss the point that accidents potentially harm both sides. Anecdotally, jaywalking is common. Pedestrians who appear suddenly pose a significant threat towards drivers. Drivers’ perception-reaction times vary from person to person. It becomes difficult for some drivers to prevent unintended and unnecessary accidents.


Education campaigns targeted at preschoolers and young children could help cultivate safe pedestrian behaviour from young. Better still, other pedestrians, especially parents, need to be good role models for children to emulate. 


Conclusion


Effective policies targeting road safety are paramount for safeguarding lives, reducing accidents, and promoting sustainable transportation systems. Through a comprehensive approach that integrates deterrence and legislation, Singapore can enhance road safety outcomes. 


However, as some infrastructural policies take time to be implemented, some areas will remain exposed to risks on the road. It is also unfeasible to implement technologies at every nook and cranny. Therefore, individuals must take ownership of their safety, as well as that of fellow motorists and pedestrians on the road. Intentional road design and education serve to strengthen accountability and courtesy on the roads.


As the Traffic Police puts it in their 2023 Report, “Every violation is one too many as it could potentially lead to an injury or worse, loss of life.” The tragedy in Tampines is regrettable. It must remind us of the fragility of lives on the road, and the need to be aware and courteous.


MAJU PE 2024_19_A Shared Responsibility_ Road Safety in Singapore
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This Policy Explainer was written by members of MAJU. MAJU is an independent, youth-led organisation that focuses on engaging Singaporean youths in a long-term research process to guide them in jointly formulating policy ideas of their own. 


By sharing our unique youth perspectives, MAJU hopes to contribute to the policymaking discourse and future of  Singapore.




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