Signs and fines of car-lite times

Jan 11, 2017 07.00PM |

by Wan Ting Koh

MORE signs showing where you can use your e-bikes and personal mobility devices (PMDs) will soon dot road and path-sides, but what compensation can you really get if you are hit by these devices?

This was a question asked by Members of Parliament (MPs) during yesterday’s second reading of the Active Mobility Bill. Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said that with the Bill, there would be clearer rules governing the use of transport devices, including the classification of paths for pedestrian use and shared use.

Related: Word of the Day: Car-lite

In case you didn’t know, there are four different kinds of paths which will be demarcated soon. First, there is the footpath where you can ride your bicycles and PMDs. E-bikes are banned from this type of path. Then there is the cycling and shared path, where bicycles, e-bikes and PMDs are allowed. There is the pedestrian-only path. And finally, roads, where only bicycles and e-bikes are allowed.

The penalty for devices that go where they shouldn’t: a maximum fine of $1,000, or a three-months jail term, or both, for first-time offenders. This applies to PMD riding on pedestrian-only paths and e-bikes that go on footpaths. The same penalty goes for speeding on public paths.

For PMDs that go on the roads, however, users will be fined a maximum of $2,000, or a three-month jail term, or both, for first-time offenders.

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The heavy penalties come on the back of several high-profile accidents involving PMDs and e-bikes in the recent months. In September last year, 53-year-old Madam Ang Liu Kiow went into a coma after being hit by an e-scooter. She underwent two brain operations.

More than 700 cyclists and PMD users were caught for reckless riding since May last year, while Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said last March that the number of e-bike accidents increased from six in 2013 to 27 in 2015.

NMP Randolph Tan pointed out that too many signs might have its own problems.

Said Assoc Prof Tan: “If incidents increase and arguments about right of way become more prevalent, will we be seeing a call for more directional signs on pedestrians pathways?… A proliferation of signages will only spawn a new set of challenges. Right of way where pathways intersect with driveways could also lead to increase chances of disputes and accidents.”

What will also be more visible apart from signs: registration plates for e-bikes. Mrs Teo said that e-bikes will have to be registered to an owner, especially since these devices are more prone to illegal modification.

However MPs seemed to be more concerned about what recourse pedestrians could get if they are involved in accidents with these devices.

Some pointed out that PMD users, who aren’t required to be registered, won’t be identifiable in cases of hit-and-run accident.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Zainal Sapari renewed the call for mandatory third-party insurance, which was, last year, rejected by Mrs Teo as “too onerous and costly” for the vast majority of PMD users who were responsible.

She said in the Oct 10 session of Parliament last year that pedestrians injured in accidents involving these devices can get compensation through civil lawsuits or private settlements.

However Mr Sitoh disagreed yesterday, saying that civil lawsuits would be expensive and that victims in hit-and-run accidents with PMDs would have no recourse if the users could not be identified. He added that the effort and cost to get insurance “should not be an impediment” to implementing mandatory insurance.

The same concern about unidentifiable PMD users was echoed by other MPs, such as Ms Joan Pereira, who suggested that devices be “sold with packaged personal accident insurance” She also asked that the insurance be “tagged to the equipment and kept updated as long as they are in use”. This is so victims can be assured of compensation, she added.

To these suggestions, Mrs Teo replied that while third-party insurance was encouraged, it was not mandatory due to the “broad range of users” who use the devices, including those who use them only occasionally, or those who are less well-off.

“Insurance comes at some cost, and it is not an insignificant amount… it is not clear who should be targeted for mandatory insurance,” said Mrs Teo. She added that where cyclists and PMD users are at fault, they may be prosecuted and the court will consider compensation.

Currently, only NTUC income offers third-party insurance for users of PMDs, e-bikes and bicycles, among other devices.


Other issues raised by MPs:

Apart from signs and third-party insurance, MPs gave other suggestions in Parliament, including having PMD users sit for theory tests and having them don mandatory safety gear. Mr Yong, Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Zainal proposed that PMD users take a basic safety course.

Mr Ang also added that while one can travel with foldable bicycles and PMDs with greater ease, there remained a lack of parking and storage spaces in public places and buildings. He was also an advocate for protective gear to be made compulsory for PMD users.

Other MPs, such as Ms Chan and Mr Dennis Tan said that familiarity with road etiquette should be inculcated when riders first start riding, with particular attention given to the young and those still schooling.

Foreign workers using bicycles were also a topic with some of the MPs, with Mr Pritam Singh saying that a key challenge would be to “educate a large and transient foreign worker community” of cycling norms. Mr Tan added that the huge influx of foreign workers in the 2000s resulted in a huge increase in the number of people using bicycles. “Many also followed the cycling culture: ignored the road safety rules because of lax enforcement,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Henry Kwek and Dr Teo Ho Pin suggested means of educating the public and for enforcing the new rules. Dr Teo said a 24-hour hotline for complaints could be set up, for instance, on top of installing CCTVs. Mr Kwek suggested that advertisements of desired behaviours could be shown in cinemas and websites such as SGAG and Mothership.


Additional reporting by Lim Qiu Ping.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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