Time for harsher penalties?

Time for harsher penalties?
The scene of an accident that occurred along the Central Expressway (CTE) on 9 August 2013.
PHOTO: Shin Min

Driver who kills 4 in CTE crash while high on drugs gets maximum sentence but netizens say he got off lightly

While high on drugs, Toh Cheng Yang got in his multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) and drove dangerously at high speed on the Central Expressway (CTE).

Meanwhile, ahead of him, another MPV driven by Mr Amron Ayoub, 23, had stopped at the chevron markings at the CTE exit to Yio Chu Kang Road after a tyre puncture.

The young man, his South Korean girlfriend and her parents were standing at the rear of their vehicle when Toh's MPV ploughed into them.

All four of them were killed in the crash on Aug 9, 2013.

Last Friday, District Judge Low Wee Ping had harsh words for Toh, 36, when sentencing him to the maximum five years in jail and 20-year ban from driving for dangerous driving causing death.

He rapped the former logistics operations director for almost wiping out an entire family by committing "one of the most reprehensible traffic offences" - driving under the influence of drugs.

It was apparent from his remarks that Judge Low felt strongly that Toh deserved the full brunt for the law for what he did.

By losing full control of his faculties after consuming excessive amounts of a prescribed-only tranquiliser as well as alcohol, Toh had turned his vehicle into a killing machine.

And four innocent lives paid for his irresponsible, even cruel, actions.

Despite Toh getting the maximum sentence, some netizens felt that he had got off lightly after killing four people.

Netizen Roland Rozario wrote: "Where is the 'fair and just law' to be meted out on this driver? A stiffer sentence and even caning should have been enforced by the authorities and the Singapore Court!!"

Under Singapore law, Judge Low would not have been able to impose a stiffer sentence even if he had wanted to.

His hands were tied because the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving, the most serious traffic offence under Singapore law, is five years' jail and a 20-year driving ban.

Is it time, then, for our law-makers to relook the penalties for severe cases of road accidents, where offenders were culpable for the deaths of other road-users through such dangerous actions as drug-taking, road rage, excessive consumption of alcohol and speeding?

Our current penalties pale in comparison to countries like Australia and the UK, which have more specific and stricter traffic laws.

In Queensland, Australia, for instance, one can be sent to jail for up to 10 years for causing death by dangerous driving. The jail term can be increased to 14 years if factors such as excessive alcohol is involved.

Manslaughter, usually reserved for the most severe cases, may be considered if the accused had driven in a deliberately reckless manner, or showed a callous disregard for human life. 

In a online poll by The New Paper, 96.9 per cent of respondents, like me, believe that tougher laws are necessary for those who drive dangerously under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Although tougher penalties will not bring back the innocent lives lost, they, like our drug laws, will at least serve as a strong deterrence.

In Toh's case, he will be out in less than 3½ years with good behaviour. But his victims' families will have to live with their tragic losss for the rest of their lives.

Lawyers contacted by The New Paper were not keen to comment on whether Toh warranted a heavier penalty than what is mandated under the Road Traffic Act (RTA).

Mr Rajan Supramaniam, the director of Hilborne Law, said: "It's an irreversible tragedy, if you ask me, but the maximum penalty based on the charge is about all that can be looked at.

"Beyond that, nothing much can be said."

Mr Gan Thiam Poh, a Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said the RTA is constantly under review.

"Whether we should follow other countries to make the laws stiffer... We will see how after the Traffic Police implement the safe driving measures," said the MP, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport.

Trident Law's Amarick Gill said the issue of stiffer penalties may be brought up in Parliament if "there is an unfortunate trend" of crashes like the one caused by Toh.

One can only hope the issue will be addressed before more innocent lives are lost to irresponsible "killer drivers" on our roads.

How laws in other countries compare

UK

Anyone who causes death by dangerous driving can get a jail term of up to 14 years and be banned from driving for at least two years.

The same penalty applies for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, with the possible addition of an unlimited fine.

The offence of manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a driving ban of at least two years, may also be considered if the accused is proven to have been "grossly negligent".

Case study: In January, Naseeb Ellahi was jailed 7½ years for killing a 14-year-old girl in a hit-and-run crash last year.

Ellahi's car was travelling at twice the speed limit in Sheffield, England, and he had snorted cocaine before driving that night.

He was also driving without insurance or a licence.

US

In many American states, vehicular homicide is the equivalent to causing death by dangerous driving.

Those found to have excessive alcohol in their blood can be convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide.

The maximum prison sentences and licence suspension periods vary by state.

In California, those convicted can get up to 10 years in jail and fined up to $10,000.

In New York, the maximum penalty is a jail term of 15 years and/or a fine of no more than $15,000.

Case study: Two years ago, former Suffolk College dean Robert Beodeker was high on methamphetamine when his vehicle killed two men tending to a car on the side of the road. This month, Beodeker was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide and jailed for four to 12 years.

CANADA

Anyone convicted of the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death can be jailed up to 14 years. If the driver is also convicted of failing to stop for police, criminal negligence, street racing, hit and run or drink driving, and a death resulted from the accident, he can be jailed for life. His licence will also be suspended.

Case study: In 2009, Nicolas Piovesan, now 31, was sentenced to seven years in jail for three counts of causing death by criminal negligence for the drink-driving deaths of three teenagers.

Mr Piovesan, who was released on parole two weeks ago, had drunk at a bar before driving into the three victims who were walking on a pavement. He fled the scene and was caught after crashing into a house.

He has to abstain from alcohol and refrain from entering bars, taverns and liquor and beer outlets. He was banned from driving for 10 years.

AUSTRALIA

In Western Australia, a driver can be jailed for up to 10 years for causing death by dangerous driving. If there are aggravating factors like speeding, the sentence can go up to 20 years. He will also be suspended from driving for at least two years.

In Southern Australia, anyone convicted of causing death by dangerous driving can be jailed for up to 15 years. An aggravated offence, such as driving under the influence of drugs, can a carry a life term and a driving ban of at least 10 years.

Case study: In 2006, Mr Thomas Towle was sentenced to 10 years in jail, with a minimum term of seven, for six counts of dangerous driving causing death and four counts of dangerous driving causing serious injury. Mr Towle's son, four, had had been sitting on his lap and had steered his car at up to 150kmh before it ploughed into a group of teens in Victoria, killing six.

Share your views with Jie Ying at fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 22, 2015.
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