(Delivered in Parliament on 7 February 2017)
The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill is introducing changes covering different aspects of road traffic regulations. Among other things, the Bill is seeking to establish a regulatory framework for the undertaking of trials and use on Singapore roads for autonomous or driverless vehicles. The Bill is also seeking to regulate holders of vocational licences who are affiliated drivers of private hire car booking service operators providing ride sourcing services like Uber. The bill also deals with forfeiture of seized non-compliant power assisted bicycles and personal mobility devices. It also seeks to support the move towards paperless vehicle licences. I will be touching on three issues.
Regulations involving autonomous and driverless vehicles
Madam, on the issue of autonomous or driverless vehicles, this Bill seems to have come a little late. On 19 October last year, it was reported in the Straits Times that a self-driving car and a lorry collided, in what is believed to be the first accident in Singapore involving an autonomous vehicle. The car was operated by two test engineers. It was reported that “the car knocked into the lorry while changing lanes in Biopolis Drive at one-north”. It was also reported that the car belonged to nuTonomy, a start-up software company that is conducting trials of its self-driving vehicles in the one-north business district. So it seems that driverless cars are already being tested without the proposed new regulations in place.
Nevertheless, I support the intention of this bill to provide for a regulatory framework for the undertaking of trials and use on Singapore roads driverless vehicles. Autonomous vehicles or driverless vehicles may well be a sign of things to come. However, the eventual regulatory framework has to be tweaked to adapt to its unique features. In short, the object of regulation and consequently the subject of any liability may, to a significant extent, though possibly not entirely, shift from the driver to the owner and the vehicle.
On the issue of liability, will owners of driverless cars continue to be defendants in all accidents when it is clear that an accident has been caused by some manufacturing defects? I hope this is still the case as it would be troublesome for other parties in an accident. If there is any such defect, the present legal regime in law of tort should still apply ie it is for the owner of the driverless car to seek indemnity from the manufacturer and the other parties involved in the accident should not be expected to have to take action directly against the manufacturer who may not be based in Singapore.
I can also foresee that in cases of accidents caused by or which involve driverless car, owners may be blaming the vehicle and manufacturers and possibly even the suppliers of certain components for the vehicle including software.
There may be issues beyond a simple vehicle performance failure such as failing to do what it is supposed to do, e.g. failure to stop when the traffic light turns red. There may be more difficult issues of liability which are more subjective or less black and white such as reacting to an unexpected course of action by another road user or pedestrian and avoiding collision or minimising impact e.g. how will it react to a car driving against the traffic. Will the machine react in the same way as we can expect a reasonable driver under our present law? As SIM senior lecturer in urban transport management, Dr Park Byung Joon, told the Straits Times in the 19th October 2016 article (and I quote): “humans don’t always behave the way they should on the roads. And technology is not advanced enough to pre-empt how humans would behave”. If technology is not able to pre-empt human behaviour in all situations, the law needs to take cognizance of that fact and the regulatory and liability regime must be structured accordingly so that there is fairness and certainty for everyone.
There may also be different reactions or reacting time to a similar incident for cars of different manufacturers. What is an acceptable reaction that frees its owner from liability or minimise its liability vis-à-vis other parties? How do we set the standard?
How will a driverless car be adjudged as failing to keep a proper lookout, a present feature of our law? Will it be subject to the same standard required by our courts for contributory negligence?
Will driverless cars be required to be operated only when a licensed driver is around? Given that we may be looking at driverless vehicles performing tasks such as road cleaning, the answer may be a ‘no, we don’t need a licensed driver or anyone onboard the vehicle at all’.
In the present situation, any licensed driver is deemed to know the obligations he has to fulfil when an accident takes place while he is behind the wheel e.g exchange driver’s and insurance details etc. If driverless vehicles can be operated without the owner or licensed driver, how will the authorities ensure that drivers can obtain access to owner’s information of the driverless vehicle? In fact, if a driverless vehicle can be operated without any person onboard or around, how will the owner be informed at the time of an accident so that he can be present to exchange particulars with the driver of the other car or to arrange for his vehicle to proceed with the journey or be sent to workshop for repairs.
Another issue involves insurance liability. How would the start of driverless driving in Singapore affect the insurance regime and how it affects insurance claims between driverless cars and normal vehicles?
Though the proposed amendments in the bill today pertains to a regulatory framework for trial purposes, and we do not yet have a draft subsidiary legislation for us to study and hence do not know the full details of the proposed regulations, I wonder how the proposed regime will be and how the Government intend to address the issues I have raised which will impact on the regulatory regime. I believe that we will encounter at least some of these issues even during the trial phase. In fact, some of these issues may have been encountered by parties in the accident of 18 October 2016 at Biopolis Drive.
I would also like to ask the Minister whether the Government has decided on the requirements for ownership and/or operation of autonomous vehicles. Would the new licensing for autonomous vehicle fall into a separate category requiring additional licensing requirements for existing drivers holding conventional class 3 licences? Will current class 3 licence holders be required to attend a further course for autonomous vehicle licensing?
Private hire car companies providing ride sourcing services like Uber
I next move to the proposed amendments involving private hire cars providing ride sourcing services.
On the issue of the new proposed regulations involving drivers of private car hire companies providing ride sourcing services like Uber, I am particularly curious about the proposed penalty under Clause 34 of the Bill which provides for a general suspension order that can bar every driver of a ride sourcing company like Uber for a period of time as a result of another driver in the same company being convicted for an offence under the Act. The proposed penalty is not only unnecessarily harsh, it is also a penalty that only applies to ride sourcing companies.
On the other hand, the corresponding provision in the Third Party Taxi Booking Service Providers Act 2015 (ie Section 20) is not exactly on par with the proposed Clause 34 in this Bill in that, under the 2015 Act, it seems that only the taxi booking service providers will be penalised but not all individual drivers under the same service providers.
I am concerned that Clause 34 may go beyond penalizing the ride sourcing companies to unfairly penalise and prejudice other drivers working for ride sourcing companies when compared to taxi drivers under the 2015 Act and in the process affecting the livelihood of these drivers.
Why is the Government allowing this particular penalty and the different treatment for drivers of ride sourcing companies?
I would also like to know whether this proposed regulation is a result of some serious persistent breaches by any current ride sourcing company and if so, what were the breaches?
Forfeiture of seized non compliant power assisted bicycles and personal mobility devices
Clause 30 of the Bill provides for forfeiture of seized non-compliant power assisted bicycles and personal mobility devices under a new Section 95B. I have read recent media reports of LTA seizing e-bikes or e-scooters. May I clarify with the minister what is the policy regarding seizure of non-compliant e-bikes and e-scooters? Will they be required to be seized whenever they are spotted in the public? If not, what are the conditions which will entitle the authorities to seize such devices? I asked this question because it is important that the public be made aware of what to expect when they use non-compliant e-bikes or e-scooters or other forms of personal mobility devices which can be regarded as non-compliant.
Madam, I am still in support of the Bill and look forward to the Minister’s clarifications.