Friday, February 18, 2005

10th Parliamentary debates 2003 - "Accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians"

10th Parliamentary Debates Singapore. Official Report, Volume 76 No. 22, 16th October 2003. Oral Answers to Questions: 13-15. Accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians (Education programme and safety measures to reduce)

13. Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong asked the Minister for Home Affairs, in view of the rising number of cyclists involved in traffic accidents and of Singaporeans taking up cycling, whether his Ministry will embark on an extensive traffic education programme for recreational and commuter cyclists to teach them street skills and traffic regulations.

14. Mr Ahmad Mohd Magad asked the Minister for Home Affairs whether measures are in place or being considered (i) to curb the recent increase in traffic accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists, particularly within residential areas; (ii) to reduce the rash and intolerant driving behaviour of the driving population manifested in aggressive driving, failure to give way and sounding the horn unnecessarily; (iii) to demarcate bicycle and vehicular traffic lanes within residential areas to enable the sharing of the roads in an organised manner; and (iv) to implement lower speed limits within school zones and specified busy school hours.

15. Ms Braema Mathiaparanam asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how many fatal accidents occurred at pedestrian crossings, in the last two years; and (b) what are his Ministry's plans to ensure that motorists slow down as they approach such crossings.

The Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs (Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee) (for the Minister for Home Affairs): Sir, may I take Question Nos. 13, 14 and 15 together?

Mr Speaker: Yes.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Sir, the number of accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians has remained stable over the last two years, averaging about 360 and 890 respectively per year. For the period January to August this year, compared to the same period last year, there were 241 accidents involving cyclists compared to 222 last year. There was an increase, but not as large an increase as Ms Irene Ng indicated.

Accidents involving cyclists crept up from 222 last year to 241 this year, January to August. For accidents involving pedestrians, there were 533 this year, compared to 641 accidents last year. So that has come down.

16 and 17 pedestrians were killed at pedestrian crossings in the years 2001 and 2002 respectively.

Sir, indeed, we all agree that cyclists and pedestrians are two vulnerable groups of road users. In line with Ms Irene Ng’s suggestion, Traffic Police has been educating them on safe cycling habits, tips for safer use of roads, and on traffic regulations. Traffic Police regularly conducts talks and exhibitions on the basic do’s and don’ts of cycling for recreational and commuter cyclists of all ages.

These talks and exhibitions cover safe cycling tips, such as wearing a protective gear, taking extra care when approaching road junctions and using proper hand signals. Tips are also provided to pedestrians on how to be seen and how to be safe. Particular effort is made to reach out to senior citizens who are usually less agile and responsive to dangers on the road and to children who are less conspicuous when crossing the roads due to their small build.

A total of 66 road safety talks and exhibitions, including segments on safe cycling, were conducted from January to August this year. These were conducted at primary and secondary schools, community and shopping centres and at army camps, reaching out to more than 37,000 people.

Another key outreach is the Shell Traffic Games that has, since its introduction in 1981, been held annually and which has reached out to about one million school children. And indeed this year, it was expanded to cover more children and also held indoors, in conjunction with Children's Day.

On road safety in general, besides the annual road safety campaigns which are educational in nature, Traffic Police also takes tough and intensive enforcement actions to deter traffic violators. Besides regular patrols and special operations, Traffic Police also leverages on technology such as the use of static and portable cameras to keep our roads safe for road users.

Traffic Police issued over 200,000 traffic summonses between January to August this year, an increase of about 13% compared to the same period last year. Mr Ahmad Magad suggested lowering speed limits on roads within school zones and during specified hours. A similar concern was raised by Ms Braema Mathiaparanam, who asked about the plans to ensure that motorists slow down as they approach pedestrian crossings.

Sir, there are already traffic signs in place to warn motorists to slow down and drive carefully when entering a school zone. Road humps have also been erected to slow vehicles down as they approach school zones as well as pedestrian crossings. Signages and road markings are also used in some major roads where it is not practical to have road humps. In addition, when these measures cannot be implemented to facilitate pedestrian crossing, pedestrian overhead bridges are erected.

Traffic Police will continue working with the Land Transport Authority to explore various measures, including lowering speed limits where appropriate, to enhance road safety around schools.

Sir, however, I am sure all in this House would agree that keeping our roads safe is not the work of Traffic Police alone. Traffic Police officers cannot be everywhere, every time, to keep an eye on road-users. A change in road users’ behaviour and mindset to create a safe road environment for all can only come about through the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, especially motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Therefore, Traffic Police will continue to galvanise, through its various campaigns, more ground efforts.

For example, following the recent accidents involving school children at Pasir Ris, I understand that Mr Ahmad Magad led a group comprising representatives from the Land Transport Authority, the Housing and Development Board, the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council and the Pasir Ris Neighbourhood Police Centre, to visit the accident site and its surrounding areas to explore ways to improve road safety there. I am sure other grassroots advisors do chip in too.

Another example is the Safe Drive Zones, a community-based road safety programme developed under the Community Safety and Security Programme (CSSP). This project aims to improve the safety of road users around schools, town centres and neighbourhood centres, by having volunteers from the community keep a watch on children and the elderly crossing the roads.

Hence, let us all do our part. On its part, let me assure the House that Traffic Police will continue to work closely with fellow professional agencies, like the Land Transport Authority, to improve road safety in Singapore.

Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong: Sir, can I ask the Senior Minister of State whether there is a study done on the bicycle accidents that have taken place and who tends to be at fault so that we can tackle the weak points?

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Sir, it is a mixture of reasons. One reason is that motorists have not been keeping a good and proper lookout. There are other reasons, for example, the cyclists cycle across the pedestrian crossing, as has happened before. It is the fault of the cyclists.

I think it is a matter of education and of being aware of each other's presence. If we take this collective approach, then the well-being of all road-users can be safeguarded.

Mdm Cynthia Phua (Aljunied): Sir, do we have a breakdown of the statistics of those that are involved in the accidents, for example, the children, the various adult age groups or even the foreign workers - I see a lot of foreign workers cycling around the estates - so that education efforts could be targeted?

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Sir, in terms of the accidents involving cyclists, the number has crept up slightly. In terms of fatalities that have come up this year, most of them did not involve children. Once in a while we may have a child being hurt, and that catches our attention. But the vast number of cyclists will be adult cyclists. I think it is better to really cover the ground, because we are also concerned about children. And, indeed, in terms of children's awareness of road dangers, we cannot take that for granted.

Let us take this current approach where Traffic Police will cover the ground working with various agencies to bring home the important message of not only safe cycling but also safe use of the roads and safe driving.

Ms Braema Mathiaparanam (Nominated Member): Sir, I am curious about the educational programmes that are given to pedestrians. I am asking this because right now there is a misreading at pedestrian crossings.

The elderly person or the child does not know whether to cross or to wait. The motorist is also having that same dilemma. I think there is a lack of consistency and the pedestrians need to be informed that it is within their right to make a crossing. To have 16-17 people dying at pedestrian crossings is not a joke.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Sir, there is no confusion on the rules. But on the ground, it is important to do the right thing in a certain situation. For example, at a pedestrian crossing, the pedestrian will have the right of way. But our advice is that pedestrians must also be careful, because there may be drivers of cars who may not see you or who may be speeding or the driver may be drunk.

If that happens, whilst a pedestrian may have the law on his side, he also suffers. So let us take this approach where we will continue to educate all concerned. It is better to be safe than sorry.

For example, for young children and for the elderly, the advice to them is that when they cross a pedestrian crossing, they should raise their hands to catch attention. It is not required by the law. But our advice to all, including parents with children, is they may want to do that little bit extra.

I have been to many Traffic Police functions over the years encouraging Singaporeans to be better motorists and better road users. If all of us can internalise it and if each of us with our own circle of contacts, whether as parents or siblings or children, can keep reminding our loved ones to be careful on the roads, that will go some way.

Dr Chong Weng Chiew (Tanjong Pagar): Sir, recently, I have seen a large number of bicycles equipped with self-installed motors travelling on the streets. Can I find out how aggressive is the authority clamping down on such activities? Do we see a need for stricter licensing requirements for such vehicles? I believe this is partly related to the Ministry of Transport.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Sir, this is under the Land Transport Authority. I think there is a categorisation where if it is above a certain capacity, then they will have to register. In terms of the details, the
Member has to file a question with the Ministry of Transport.

Dr Wang Kai Yuen (Bukit Timah): Sir, would the Minister consider introducing legislation in the House to increase the penalty on errant drivers in situations where they are clearly at fault, and also to shift the onus of blame in such accidents on to the motorists, in favour of the pedestrian or cyclist?

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Just to clarify on the Member's question, is he asking us to raise the punishment when the accident involves pedestrians and cyclists?

Dr Wang Kai Yuen: The motorist is at fault.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: It all depends on the circumstances. There are enough sections in our various Acts, because we can charge a person under the Road Traffic Act or under the Penal Code. There is also a whole range of possible sections.

So, for example, we can charge a person for careless driving or dangerous driving. In terms of the arsenal available for punishing errant motorists, it is there. For example, the Member, who has been in this House for a long time, will know that, in fact, the penalty for drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 50 km per hour, the demerit points go up and his susceptibility to being suspended also goes up.

Over the years, we have finetuned the range of punishments. What is really now needed is awareness that everybody can play a part.

Dr Wang Kai Yuen: Sir, the reason why I ask is that I recall an accident case involving a lady driver and a woman with a baby at the pedestrian crossing of a road junction. In that case, when it came before the court, it was found that the pedestrian was at fault. From that judgment, it seems that if a person is at fault and gets killed, it is his problem. I am asking whether we can introduce legislation in this House to shift the blame on to the motorist regardless of who is at fault.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: I think each case will depend on its own facts. When the case goes before the court, the respective lawyers will argue the case. Sometimes, one party is wholly negligent. Sometimes, there is contributory negligence. The laws are there. I think it is better that the facts are presented before the judge who will then make a decision as to whether one side is wholly liable or both sides are liable and how to apportion the liability.

Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir): Sir, I wonder whether the Minister is willing to tighten and enforce the traffic laws in relation to cyclists. I notice that cyclists are cycling haphazardly on the roads. They turn and cross the road wherever they like. I also notice that bicycles are badly maintained.

In the dark roads, many of them do not have any light at all. I live at a place where the road is going down a slope and I can hear these cyclists screeching down the road.

Mr Speaker: Do you mean "bicycles"?

Mr Chiam See Tong: It shows that their brakes are not in order.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Sir, in fact, we do have the Road Traffic (Bicycle) Rules where rules have been set down governing cycling behaviour. For example, if you are cycling at night, your bicycle must have proper lighting. Also, you cannot cycle against the flow of traffic. The rules are there. It is a matter of enforcement. The Traffic Police is mindful of the need to ensure road safety.

Of course, it is also a matter of usage of resources because, in terms of road users that cause the greatest harm, it is really the motorists who speed or drink drive. So, let us leave it to the Traffic Police to do their job.

Ultimately, the main point is that all who use Singapore roads should have that assurance that if they do their part, their lives will be safeguarded.

Mr Steve Chia Kiah Hong: Two supplementary questions, Mr Speaker, Sir. First, can the Minister clarify if riding with slippers or sandals on the road constitutes a traffic offence? If it is, what is the rationale behind it?

Secondly, will the Ministry look into capturing more specific data on accidents for data analysis so as to better understand the likely causes which lead to an accident? So far, we read of newspaper reports saying that the motorcyclist lost control of his vehicle. It seems irrational that the motorcyclist happily riding on the road suddenly loses control. Something must have caused the accident. Maybe more specific data could be captured for analysis.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: Is the Member talking about motorcyclists or pedal cyclists?

Mr Steve Chia Kiah Hong: Motorcyclists.

Assoc. Prof. Ho Peng Kee: I think Mr Steve Chia rides a motorcycle. There is no prohibition against what kind of attire he should wear. It is more a question of education. Hence, it is common sense that a motocyclist should wear something that will not impede his control of the vehicle. I think we cannot regulate the T's and the I's. Ultimately, it is how the motorcyclist controls his machine. I think that is important. And this is where education comes in. Ultimately, if a person knows that what he does is really for his own safety, he would take the necessary precautions.

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