Softer approach to road safety

Softer approach to road safety

RATHER than rely on campaigns and summonses, the police yesterday kicked off a series of conversations to engage the public on ways to improve road safety.

Traffic Police commander Sam Tee described the Use Your RoadSense programme, which will involve dialogues with stakeholders, as the first time law enforcement has taken such an approach and marks a departure from its campaign-driven and penalty-reliant approach in the past.

"The Singapore environment is changing much faster than before and we're much more diverse than before," he said. "We're also having a lot more distractions on the road, and we seem to be always in a hurry." Hence the previous methods of "pushing out messages" and enforcement may not effect real change.

"We aim to create a movement - one that is revolutionary and lasting," commander Tee said. "That's why we want to start a conversation."

Yesterday, the first conversation took place at public relations agency Ogilvy Singapore's premises in Robinson Road with a multi-disciplinary panel of experts and about 40 people attending.

Psychologist Kevin Menon believed Singapore can develop a road culture akin to Japan's, where "people don't cross a road unless the Green Man comes on - even when it is late in the evening and there are no cars on the road".

The behavioural expert said a tendency for mistakes arises when motorists become complacent and drive "unconsciously", or when they let emotions overtake logic. A key to better road behaviour, he added, depended on how road-users react to other people's behaviour.

"The point of this conversation is to encourage people to look inwards," he said.

Retired transport engineer Gopinath Menon said: "We need to let people know the road is a very hostile environment, and the risk of getting into an accident is high. We need to be alert at all times."

The vice-chairman of the Singapore Road Safety Council and adjunct associate professor at Nanyang Technological University said: "We should think like pedestrians when we drive. When we make mistakes when we walk, we just say sorry and be on our way. Why can't we do that when we drive?"

Economist Sumit Agarwal said it was crucial for "salient information" to be made available to help motorists make informed choices. He cited the case of motorists parking by the road shoulder to wait for electronic road-pricing (ERP) rates to change.

He thinks this happens because motorists are not aware of the ERP system's graduated pricing.

Intelligent Transportation Society of Singapore president Sing Mong Kee said this sort of behaviour will be irrelevant in the "near future", when vehicles and infrastructure are connected wirelessly.

When autonomous vehicles become a reality, "you can 'drive' even if you are handicapped, don't have a driving licence or even if you are drunk", he said. Things like speeding and running red lights will be things of the past, too.

In the meantime, drink driving, speeding and running red lights remain the top causes of road fatalities, commander Tee said, contributing nearly half of all road deaths. He said even though road fatalities have dropped by more than 20 per cent in the last four years, one person died almost every two days. "One death is one too many," he said.

More of such dialogues will be held in the next two years.

This article was first published on April 8, 2015.
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