SINGAPORE : Parliament has passed amendments to the Road Traffic Act, paving the way for stiffer penalties against vehicles that are illegally modified.
The new bill will also allow for the introduction of a new scheme aimed at incentivising motorists to buy cars with low carbon emissions.
Members of Parliament (MPs) who spoke on the bill welcomed the enhancements but wanted to see more done.
The number of illegal modification offences has tripled from about 2,500 in 2009 to 7,300 in 2011.
Of these, offences relating to illegal modification of the exhaust system increased three—fold, from about 80 cases per month in 2010 to 250 cases per month this year.
"Such illegal modifications to a vehicle’s exhaust system not only compromise vehicle safety and therefore the safety of other road users, but also result in excessive noise emissions and public nuisance," said Minister of State for Transport, Josephine Teo.
Under the enhanced penalty, the court can impound illegally—modified vehicles for up to three months.
This is on top of a possible jail term for repeat offenders.
MPs noted that such a move will be painful for motorists of such vehicles, but they asked if workshops involved in such modifications should also face stiffer penalties.
In response, Mrs Teo said: "Not all types of modifications are illegal and so workshops that undertake modification works are not necessarily breaking the law. For example, if the vehicle is going to be used off the road at specialised race tracks, they could be legal."
She elaborated: "Currently, our enforcement regime targets owners of illegally—modified vehicles. One reason is they do not necessarily need to do the modifications in a workshop in Singapore. They could go elsewhere to get the modifications done, in which case enforcement against the workshops will not be terribly effective. It is better to enforce against the vehicle owners themselves. That is one reason we have targeted the owners as rather than the workshops.
"But nonetheless, we do agree that it is important to get the workshops on board as well, and so LTA (Land Transport Authority) is in the midst of reviewing the enforcement and legislation against workshops; for example, the closure of workshops may be an effective deterrent for them."
Mrs Teo added the government is also taking a calibrated approach in enhancing the penalties.
She said that it is not the intention of authorities to go after motorists, but there needs to be a message sent — that illegal modifications are not acceptable, especially in cases where there are blatant violations or when offenders blatantly break the law.
One MP noted that Singapore could be more aggressive in promoting the green cause.
Under the new Carbon Emission—based Vehicle (CEV) scheme, buyers of cars with low carbon dioxide emissions can enjoy rebates of between S$5,000 and S$20,000.
Meanwhile, those who buy high carbon emission cars will be taxed between S$5,000 and S$20,000.
The CEV scheme will apply to all new cars, taxis and newly—imported used cars registered with effect from 1 January 2013.
The CEV rebates will be implemented from 1 January 2013.
The surcharges will only take effect six months later, from 1 July 2013, to give consumers and the motor industry more time to adjust.
Dr Janil Puthucheary, MP for Pasir Ris—Punggol GRC, said: "While I support the motion and its intent, I am worried that the proposed scheme as it stands will not significantly shift our car population towards being more environmentally friendly.
"I am concerned that the majority of car buyers will not in any way have their purchasing behaviour affected. I would like to recommend that the tax and rebate amounts are significantly increased, and that the limits for CO2 emissions made stricter."
Mrs Teo said: "The scheme is designed such that the maximum price between a high and low emission car can be up to S$40,000, which is more than the open market value of a typical mid—sized car.
"The existing buying pattern is definitely a reference point. The hope and the expectation is that certainly at the margins, vehicle buyers will consider moving from the band which causes them to be levied a surcharge into the neutral band, and for those who were contemplating the purchase of a car that currently falls on the neutral band, to be incentivised by the existence of a rebate and modify their buying behaviour accordingly.
"We have until the end of 2014 to observe the impact, which is when the scheme will be applicable up to. We plan to monitor particularly motorists’ purchasing decisions before deciding whether to go further and if so, by how much.
"For the emissions thresholds that qualify for rebates and taxes, we note Dr Janil’s comparisons with other jurisdictions. Indeed, we are playing catch up. But when we think about the thresholds in future, we will also look at advances in technology as well as the progress in Singapore’s overall mitigation efforts on climate change.
"We are introducing the CEV for the first time. We believe there will be some impact, but are also mindful to give motorists time to adjust before drawing conclusions."
Other enhancements to the Act include strengthening the security regime at bus depots to allow for bag checks on public buses and in bus interchanges, similar to the bag checks conducted in MRT stations today.
Mrs Teo said the difficulties faced on areas like illegal modification, noise pollution, driver behaviour are all due to lack of consideration for well being of others. So there is only so much enforcement can do. She said what is needed is a change in mindset, for Singaporeans to be more gracious on the roads.
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