(Photo Credit: Straits Times)
On Monday (8 July), Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Walter Theseira suggested in Parliament that to deter speeding, motorists who drive luxury cars should pay higher fines for the same offence compared to those who drive economical vehicles.
Under such a system, fines for traffic offences would be pegged to the open market value of the offending motorist's vehicle, which is believed by some to enhance the deterrent effect against unsafe driving.
He went on to say that, "I think it reasonable to presume that the driver of a large luxury car is able to pay more than one driving a cheaper vehicle, and would likely regard the demerit points and other consequences of an offence as far more serious than the value of the fine itself.”
He added that, "in fact, insofar as many luxury cars are marketed as safer than less well-equipped cars, there is even more reason to increase the optimal fine as a deterrent, since the perceived risk of injury to the driver themselves will be lower and they may be more inclined to speed."
Dr Theseira also said that his proposal was a bid to make fines more “meaningful” as a deterrent for motorists of higher income levels, while at the same time, being fair and reasonable for lower-income motorists.
While it is just a suggestion brought up in parliament, everyone from media outlets to motorists of all income levels have begun weighing in on such a system.
We, along with the majority of motorists surveyed, generally agree it is not a good idea along the lines of equality and effectiveness.
In the eyes of the law, everyone is equal in Singapore and the punishment for crimes committed here is blind to one’s race, status and gender. The question that needs to be answered is, why should the law discriminate in this case, by punishing luxury car owners heavier than their economical car driving counterparts?
The slippery slope argument could also be made here, where other punishments for other laws could be altered in the same way as this proposal to punish a certain group of people heavier, should this proposal be passed. Such moves would only further erode the basis of our legal system and penal code.
Furthermore, just because a motorist is driving an expensive vehicle, doesn’t necessarily mean they have the financial capabilities to pay a higher-than-normal fine. Not to mention, luxury car owners are already paying more than economical car owners in certain areas.
But luxury car drivers in our office appear to have mixed feelings about this issue.
Mr Damian Sia, founder and CEO of Motorist, weighed in on this issue by saying that, “in general, people with a higher income are already paying higher taxes. Luxury car owners already have to pay a higher road tax and Preferential Additional Registration Fee.”
Mr Sia, who drives a Mercedes-Benz car, added that, “increasing the monetary fine so they will feel the pain, I can agree where they are coming from. But I feel that there should not be any changes in other areas like the awarding of demerit points.”
Mr Jake Ler, Chief Marketing Officer of Motorist, mentioned that, “the demographics of car owners are so diverse. It is impossible to have a perfect formula that can ensure absolute fairness and ensure deterrence.”
Mr Ler, who drives an Alfa Romeo car, suggested that, “a fairer system should be one that can hit everyone, no matter the income level, equally hard. The demerit point system is a good example. Rich or average people alike have the same number of points. It should be more effective to improve this system.”
Back in March this year, we reported that the Singapore Government collected S$37.8 million in traffic fines in 2018, an increase of S$1.7 million compared to 2017. According to the government’s best estimates, they would be collecting $38.4 million in traffic fines in 2019, a 1.6% increase from 2018.
When we broke the news of this, netizens were quick to light up the comment board with their displeasures regarding the high fines and the government, in general.
(Photo Credit: Business Times)
Circling back to the increase in fines collected and the government’s prediction for this year, it is a big indication that financial punishments are not the answer to deter speeding. With cars becoming more powerful and cities getting more crowded, there is no perfect solution to this speeding phenomenon.
While some have proposed the suspension of driving licence and more demerit points for speeding motorists, that could face larger opposition and backlash. Why? Money is disposable and can be earned easily to most, unlike one’s driving licence or demerit points.
Supporters of this proposal have cited examples of huge fines for motorists in Europe, like the case of the Finnish businessman who was fined 54,024 euros (S$82,400) for driving at 64 miles per hour (103km/h) in a 50 miles per hour (80km/h) zone.
They also mentioned Finland and Switzerland’s policy on fining speeding motorists, which is based on the offender’s income, and the taxable income and wealth respectively. Such policies can lead to exorbitant fines totalling tens of thousands of dollars, like in the example cited above.
But is that really the route we want to go down in Singapore? We are already known as a “fine city”, and despite that, we have a high number of super-rich expats and sports cars on our roads.
A fine of tens of thousands of dollars imposed for speeding will go down in a country’s history. Not only that, what kind of message would that send to foreigners who are planning on settling down in Singapore?
Before we conclude, we would like to say that we do not condone speeding on our roads, it puts both the driver and road users at greater risk, and if caught, offenders should be punished.
But, is it right for a driver of a new BMW to be fined a few times more compared to the driver of a heavily modified aging Subaru Impreza when they were both going at 140km/h on the PIE at 2am?
Ultimately, can this radical proposal be an effective deterrent? Well, while a few drivers may not feel the pinch from a massive fine, the majority of them will.
But at the same time, as Mr Ler pointed out, “there will always be a group of people who will be so rich, that any number of fines will not be able to affect them much.”
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