Would harsher punishments prevent more road accidents?
(From the Straits Times: Friends of Ms Lo at the site of the fatal car crash in Tampines. She and Ms Phoe were flung out of the rear seat of the car and killed when the vehicle skidded and slammed into a tree)
Last week’s Mercedes Benz freak accident may see the driver punishable by a maximum of 5 years jail time and a fine. Without the need of a poll, I dare say that many, many would find the punishment judiciously insufficient.
Consider the following deaths in the last few years:
– 2014: Mercedes Benz jailed for four weeks for causing death of cyclist
– 2014: Two and a half years jail for drink driving and causing death by dangerous driving
– 2013: Driver Toh Cheng Yang killed a family of four including a young man, his South Korean girlfriend and her parents
There are many, many, many more of such accidents. The bus driver that killed an elderly pedestrian, a cement mixer that killed two schoolboys and just this year, a truck that killed a cyclist on an e-bike. I use the word “killed” out of respect for the deceased…words would have been far too graphic to describe how these victims died.
Unfortunately for Singapore Judges, they could not impose harsher sentences even if they wanted to. It is not within their power. Parliament pre-decides the punishment.
There are also no “degrees of murder” like in the United States, neither is there is the crime of manslaughter and all its variants (constructive/voluntary etc). It is either murder, a homicide or a death by rash/negligent act. Very briefly, as long as there is no intention to kill, it will not be murder. In most road accidents, very few actually intend to kill someone hence these are likely to be charged as rash/negligent acts.
Although I agree that Parliament should review the sentences that Judges can implement, I do not see it as a deterrence. It would be retribution, moral affirmation or desert for the offender, but not deterrence.
Deterrence should be done before the accident happens: intoxicated driving and reckless driving for example, would get your licence revoked, taking you off the roads completely. We have the system in place – what we don’t have are the officers to enforce it.
In the last 5 years I’ve been driving, I can count on my ten fingers the number of times I’ve seen traffic police on the road. And the number of times I’ve been spot checked or stopped in a road block in the last 5 years? Just once. Even if I didn’t have a licence, I wonder who would know?
The traffic police may try to make it seem like presence is felt by introducing unmarked police vehicles but the truth is: they just don’t have enough manpower. Every single day I see cars speeding, driving recklessly. I see heavy vehicles travelling as fast as me…just yesterday, three 44 seater busses were speeding behind me on the extreme right lane.
There are ill behaved drivers on every single road, every single hour. We cannot underestimate such ill behaviours: rude driving, road hogging, not using signals, installing annoying HID lights…these action arouse aggression in other drivers and it can end up in conflict. Hence Roads.Sg has such entertaining videos so often. We’re human – we know we should calm down but bad behaviour can cause you to go nuts.
If you had read Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point, you would be familiar with the Giuliani and the New York miracle. In the late 1990s crime rate in New York city fell by more than 43%. This was attributed to then Mayor of New York, Rudolp Giuliani putting former Commissioner Bratton in charge of the NYPD. What Bratton did was take care of “small crimes”: vandalism, broken windows and other petty small offences that the NYPD would normally not care about. The theory was that these small offences, not taken care of would embolden people to commit larger crimes. The plan worked.
I believe it is the same with our roads. If there are not enough officers getting the small things in place; heavy vehicles to keep to the left, using the traffic signals, keeping road hoggers out of the fast lane…then people would be emboldened to speed. To drive recklessly. I would even say that if you drink and drive, chances are you will not get caught.
Cameras are great, but cameras will not enforce good behaviour. By the time someone choses to speed, drive recklessly or drink and drive – it is too late. When someone floors the accelerator, he’s not in a state of mind to think about the consequences. The consequences thus, will not deter him.
By the time someone is killed, there is nothing to discuss anymore. Not even if you sentenced someone to a thousand years in prison, the dead will not come back to life.
You want to stop this person before he choses to build speed, drive like a maniac or drive intoxicated. Nothing can do this better than good old fashioned policing – the officer in the menacing sunglasses warning you to keep your conduct in check.