Liability Of Owners Of Ill-Maintained Vehicles That Are Involved In Injury-Causing Accidents

In 2018, I moved an adjournment motion in Parliament suggesting that legislation be introduced to make vehicle owners liable if their lack of maintenance of the vehicle is a contributive factor leading to the death or injury of another person. Last year, I raised the issue again which prompted the Ministry of Home Affairs to jointly review the matter with the Ministry of Transport. I sought an update on the review from the Minister for Home Affairs. The Minister’s view is that the current regime which would make the vehicle owner liable under the Penal Code if his act of not maintaining the vehicle is the direct cause of the death or injury is fair and sufficient. I appreciate the position taken by the Ministry. My own view though is that for the cases that I have reviewed; for e.g. a case of a motorcyclist being knocked down and dying because a tyre that came loose from a vehicle collided with him, it is not easy to discharge the legal burden that the lack of maintenance of the vehicle is a direct and proximate cause of the death. In some other jurisdictions, owners are strictly liable as long as the lack of maintenance is a contributive factor to the causing of death or injury. At the end of the day, whilst we cannot undo the causing of the death or injuries, through imposing criminal liability, we will be able to help the family members of the deceased or the injured persons claim compensation. I will be visiting this matter again in the forthcoming Committee of Supply debate for Ministry of Home Affairs.

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Home Affairs whether there is any update on the review of whether owners of ill-maintained vehicles should be made criminally liable for the fatal and injury-causing accidents arising from the mechanical failure of their vehicles.

Mr K Shanmugam: The Member had raised this issue last year during the Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill. MHA had replied that we would review it with MOT.

Currently, the Penal Code allows us to take vehicle owners to task, if their negligence in maintaining their vehicle led to fatal or injury-causing accidents. For the liability to attach, the negligence must be the proximate or efficient cause of the accident. This means that if the offender’s negligence in vehicle maintenance was a substantial cause of the accident which led to death or injury, he would be liable for an offence.

MHA is of the view that the current threshold is a fair one. We should only attach criminal liability if we can prove that the offender was negligent in maintaining his vehicle, and that this in turn caused the accident.

The Member may also wish to note that the large majority of road traffic accidents involving fatalities or injuries are caused by behavioural factors, such as dangerous driving, careless driving, or driving under the influence of alcohol, rather than poorly maintained vehicles. This is because we have a robust regulatory regime in place to ensure that vehicles are maintained in roadworthy condition. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) requires all vehicles to be regularly inspected at LTA-Authorised Inspection Centres. These inspections are comprehensive, covering key vehicle components and systems including brakes, steering, tyres and exhaust systems.

We thank the Member for raising this suggestion, and will continue to monitor the road traffic situation.

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Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.