Improving the safety of our roads

SPEECH BY MELVIN YONG (MP FOR RADIN MAS SMC) AT THE 2ND READING OF THE ROAD TRAFFIC (AMENDMENT) BILL ON 11 MAY 2021

1. Mr Speaker, I stand in support of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to enhance the safety of our roads and road users.

2. As a former police officer and current unionist looking after the welfare of our transport workers, road safety is a topic very close to my heart. With close to a million motorists plying our roads each day, we need to ensure that they get to their destinations safely.

3. My speech today will focus on 3 key aspects where road safety can and must be improved — the safety of autonomous technologies, the safety of cyclists and Power Assisted Bicycle users, and the safety of our migrant workers when travelling to work.

Expand AV regulatory sandbox to cover Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

4. Sir, our Autonomous Vehicle (AV) regulatory sandbox was first established for a period of 5 years from 2017 to 2022, to facilitate the conduct of AV trials in Singapore and to support research and development in the industry. The Bill proposes to extend this regulatory sandbox for another 5 five years, to facilitate more trials until 2027.

5. I would like to ask the Land Transport Authority for an update on the various AV trials conducted here in Singapore in the past 5 years. How are we doing in respect to other key countries racing to deploy AVs, which would include the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands? Have our plans to trial autonomous public buses in Punggol, Tengah, and the Jurong Innovation District been disrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? If so, can the LTA provide the new timeline for this trial to take place?

6. As we continue to keep a keen eye on the development of autonomous vehicles, it is also important that we look at the regulation of the Advanced Driver Assistance System. I was deeply concerned to hear about a fatal car accident in the US in April, which involved a Tesla vehicle that was believed to be operating in autonomous mode. While we impose strict safety standards on AV developers, how are we regulating seemingly conventional cars that are increasingly being equipped with new technologies such as A-DAS?

7. Car manufacturers have marketed such systems as an “autopilot” feature, which may give some drivers the illusion that they do not need to pay attention to the road when the feature is switched on. I hope that the LTA could look into this and review if there is a need for more regulation of such “autopilot” systems in cars.

Keeping our cyclists and PAB riders safe

8. Mr Speaker, according to a recent article by Lianhe Zaobao, 2020 saw 565 road accident casualties involving cyclists, PAB users, and their pillion riders. This is a 23% increase from 2019. The article speculated that the increase was due to more people taking up cycling as a hobby due to the pandemic and being unfamiliar with safe riding habits on the road.

9. Today, to allow our public buses to have a safe and smooth journey during peak hours, the Road Traffic Act prohibits almost all vehicle types from plying the bus lanes during operational hours. Cyclists, however, are allowed to cycle on the bus lanes in a single file.

10. Sir, the Highway Code recommends that motorists give 1.5 metres of space when overtaking cyclists. Let’s do some simple Math here. The minimum width of our traffic lane is 3 metres, and the average width of our public buses is around 2.5 metres. It is simply impossible for our buses to overtake cyclists safely without infringing into the next lane. During bus lane operational hours, where there is peak hour traffic and where more buses are deployed, overtaking is both difficult and dangerous. Cyclists, in particular amateurs, are especially vulnerable if they do not know how to navigate safely the blind spots of the big bus.

11. As Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers’ Union, my bus captains have told me that they are seeing more cyclists on the bus lanes. Many do not keep to the kerb side and some ride two, or even three abreast. Bus captains worry for the safety of cyclists and other road users when attempting to overtake them. It is also common for buses to have to overtake and re-overtake the same peloton of cyclists, as they bypass the bus at bus stops, and the dangerous cycle repeats.

12. I urge the Ministry to not allow cyclists and PAB users on bus lanes during operational hours. This is for their safety and also the safety of other road users.

Enhancing safety of migrant workers travelling on our roads

13. Sir, I was deeply distressed when I heard the news that the lives of two migrant workers were lost in a traffic accident involving a lorry and a tipper truck on 20 April. Less than a week later, there was another lorry accident which resulted in 10 migrant workers conveyed to the hospital.

14. The NTUC’s Migrant Workers’ Centre is assisting the injured workers in their recovery process, and raising funds to help the families of the workers whose lives were lost in the tragic accident.

15. Safety concerns about how our migrant workers are transported is not new. Regulations were amended in 2011, following a spate of fatal road traffic accidents involving migrant workers then. However, the recent accidents are a grim reminder that trucks and lorries should only be used to transport goods, not people.

16. The Labour Movement is engaging the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) to push for the implementation of separate transport arrangements for migrant workers as soon as possible. NTUC is also engaging the relevant government agencies to address implementation issues. We want our workers to get to their workplaces, and back home safely every day.

17. While tripartite negotiations are underway, we should explore interim safety measures that can be adopted immediately.

18. First, we call on employers to hire a dedicated driver to transport their workers. This is to eliminate the issue of driver fatigue. Many companies, especially those outside of the construction sector, still require their workers to double-hat as a driver after a tiring full work shift. This unsafe practice must stop!

19. Drivers should also be required to have a vocational driving licence before they can transport passengers. This is a step-up from the current requirements for migrant worker drivers to pass our local Class 3 driving exam, as vocational training will focus on safety when transporting passengers. Mandatory licencing also allows the authorities to screen and track drivers for any adverse driving records.

20. Second, the co-mingling of goods and passengers should be outlawed. Co-mingling of goods and passengers is unsafe and is potentially fatal. If not properly secured, passengers risk being pinned by these heavy goods and machineries in the event of an accident, or even a sudden braking of the vehicle. Between goods and passengers — there should only be one onboard the vehicle at any one time.

21. While the number of accidents involving lorries may have gone down over the past 10 years, the risk for major injury and fatality per incident is high. If employers persist to use lorries to transport their workers, we want to reduce the associated risks significantly. We can do so by securing the passengers with proper seat belts and by restricting the lorry’s travelling speed when transporting workers.

22. In her earlier reply to Parliamentary Questions filed on this topic, SMS Amy Khor highlighted that a workgroup had studied such issues in 2008 and found that the cargo beds of lorries were not constructed in a manner for seat belts to be retrofitted safely. I am glad that SMS has indicated that the Ministry would review the issue again together with the tripartite partners, and factor in advancements in vehicle manufacturing and seat belt technology.

23. We also need to review the speed limit when passengers are on board goods vehicles. As SMS Khor mentioned, lorries are already subjected to a speed limit of 60km/h. But is this safe enough?

24. One research paper suggests that passengers in cargo areas are 7.9 times more likely to lose their lives in the event of an accident. Therefore, I do urge the LTA to re-look the issue and limit the permissible travelling speed of lorries when transporting passengers.

Government’s help needed to expedite changes

25. Sir, the Labour Movement is keenly aware of the difficult economic situation that many employers are facing today. I hope the Government can help offset the financial burden employers will face when enhancing the transportation safety for our workers.

26. I have some suggestions. We could exempt buses used to transport our workers from COE, similar to how school buses are already exempted today. We could also provide an early adopter grant to incentivise employers to purchase or lease buses to transport their workers. I believe that this is a necessary price to pay to ensure the safety of the many workers who have left the comfort of their home country to help build our nation.

Conclusion

27. Sir, in conclusion, we can do more to enhance the safety of our roads for vulnerable groups. Cyclists and PAB riders should not cycle on busy bus lanes during peak hours, and our migrant workers and all workers should have safer transport to work.

28. With that, I support the Bill.

Member of Parliament for Radin Mas SMC