Monday, August 27, 2012

Bad drivers 'fess up

Are we adopting more bad driving habits?

Motorists here seem to think so.

AXA Insurance Singapore polled more than 600 drivers and motorcyclists last year in its annual Road Safety Survey.

The result showed that 41 per cent admitted to tailgating.

The same number also owned up to having answered the phone without a hands-free kit or text messaging while driving.

When asked why they tailgate, half of the drivers blamed the vehicle in front for "driving too slowly", while the rest gave excuses such as they were rushing or trying to overtake the vehicles in front.

The issue of driving habits came up after Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam posted on his Facebook page on Aug 20 his encounters with three reckless drivers in a day when his wife was driving the car.

In one instance, someone sped up to prevent his wife from switching lanes and in the other two instances, drivers did not signal when changing lanes.

Several netizens agreed with his observation.

From the AXA survey, it appears that we're an impatient lot on the roads.

And a lot of it may have to do with poor time management and a lack of route planning, AXA said.

But while they are bad habits, are our roads also more dangerous now?

Mr Chua Kim Soon, principal officer and chief executive officer of AXA Insurance Singapore, said in a media release on the survey results: "Close analysis of the data shows us a worrying trend of reckless drivers who commit dangerous behaviours such as tailgating, speeding and failing to signal - all of which can lead to accidents involving serious injuries.

More bodily injuries 

"With a notable increase over the past year in the number of bodily injury claims AXA has experienced, this is an area we are understandably concerned about."

Last year, 195 people were killed in road accidents, according to figures from Traffic Police, compared with 193 in the previous year.

Motorists in the AXA survey cited going through amber lights, speeding at more than 10 kmh above the limit and switching lanes without signalling as the three dangerous driving behaviours they committed most often.

Then there's the tailgating, even of emergency vehicles.

An ambulance driver who wanted to be known as only Mr Fariz,40, told The New Paper: "These drivers would keep close to my ambulance so as to get out of the congestion.

"But it is a very inconsiderate and dangerous act.

"What happens when I need to brake in an emergency? I am afraid that these drivers would hit my ambulance and injure my patients and their relatives that I am ferrying."

More aware? 
But could it be that we are just more aware of bad driving habits on the roads?

Transport analyst Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore thinks so.

He told The New Paper that his views are based solely on his observations of the road conditions when he drives to and from work.

"When I started driving here, I did notice how some drivers did not signal before changing lanes. But because traffic was comparatively low then, it was not an issue," said Dr Lee, who came here from Taiwan in 1999.

"Today, we have more vehicles on the roads and as traffic gets more congested, (naturally) we see more friction among the drivers."

Dr Lee began noticing the increased friction on the roads about six years ago as traffic got more congested, he added.

Mr Fariz agreed that it was less intense on our roads when he started driving the ambulance in the mid-1990s.

"Back then, when drivers see my ambulance approaching, they would quickly give way to me.

"Today, I would need to switch on the siren to alert drivers ahead. Even so, some of them would still hog the lane and not give way to me.".

How do we tackle the problem then?

Dr Lee said since it would be hard to change the volume of traffic here, education would be the key to improve driving conditions.

And that includes "educating" foreign drivers.

He recalled how he had made a number of bad mistakes when he first started driving here.

Dr Lee said: "I was driving on West Coast Highway and there was no traffic. I made a wrong turn and drove against traffic flow. Some vehicles flashed their headlights at me and I pulled over by the side of the road before making a U-turn.

"Even though I can drive and know traffic rules, it does not mean I am familiar with local driving conditions."

If we don't make a change now, new foreign arrivals will be conditioned to embrace the same bad driving habits.

He said: "The environment will change the driver's behaviour. When a driver is new, he would tend to be more conservative and drive more carefully on the road.

"But over the years, he would gain more confidence and maybe become more aggressive. His behaviour will be influenced by other drivers he encounters on the road."

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