Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
What is “Road Rage”?
Road rage is an incidence of violence perpetrated by road users. It is a result of real or perceived provocation by other road users, stemming from differences that arise in the course of the shared use of roads.
Such differences may involve aggressive and ungracious acts of driving such as honking, tailgating, speeding, making angry gestures, preventing a vehicle from changing lanes, etc.
Road rage usually happens when the driver, or passengers, alight from their vehicles with the intention to harm each other in a moment of anger. However, it is not necessary for harm to be committed for it to be considered road rage. Other factors such as the disruption caused to the public (see below) will also be taken into consideration in a case of road rage.
Is Road Rage a Criminal Offence in Singapore?
There is no specific law in relation to road rage in Singapore. Most laws focus on the confrontational actions of parties following an act of “rage”. Therefore, although road rage itself is not a criminal offence, it is possible for individuals in a road rage case to be charged with other criminal offences.
The following table shows some of these offences and their respective penalties:
|Cases of road rage
|Voluntarily Causing Hurt
|A person who intentionally hurts another person, or does something while knowing that they are likely to cause hurt to that person, can be found guilty of voluntarily causing hurt.
|Offenders can be jailed up to 3 years, fined up to $5,000, or both.
|In the case of PP v Lim Yee Hua, Lim was provoked by a pedestrian (the victim) who had hit the top of his car after Lim failed to give way at the zebra crossing. Lim faced 2 charges of voluntarily causing hurt after he punched his victim causing abrasions on his victim’s left eyebrow, as well as for punching his victim on the back of his neck. (More on the sentences he received for both charges below.)
|Voluntarily Causing Grievous Hurt
|Voluntarily causing grievous hurt is similar to the offence of voluntarily causing hurt, only that the hurt caused here is more severe.
Grievous hurt can range from bone fracture to permanent disfiguration of the head or face and even death.
|Those guilty of this offence can be jailed up to 10 years, and shall also be liable to a fine or caning.
|In the case of PP v Lee Seck Hing, the victim and Lee were driving when the former had cut into Lee’s lane. When both cars stopped at the junction, Lee hit the victim and fractured his arm. Lee was charged with voluntarily causing grievous hurt and was sentenced to 1 day’s imprisonment and a fine of $4,000.
|Causing Hurt by Rash Act
|One may be guilty of causing hurt by rash act when he causes hurt to another person by doing so rashly as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others.
|Those guilty may face an imprisonment term of up to one year, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both.
|In March 2017, a university professor was charged with driving his vehicle in a rash manner. He intentionally applied the emergency brake thrice, causing Mr Samual Lim Yong Soon’s car to collide with the rear of his vehicle. The professor pleaded guilty to committing a rash act and was jailed for a week, fined S$2,000 and banned from driving for 6 months.
|Mischief occurs when one destroys or diminishes the value or utility of the property with the intention or knowledge that he is likely to cause wrongful loss or damage to the public or any person.
|Punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years and/or with fine.
|In April 2019, a cyclist was fined $2,800 for causing mischief by striking off a lorry’s side-view mirror after being honked at by that lorry for riding in the middle of the lane.
Other Penalties for Road Rage
From 30 June 2021, offenders involved in road rage incidents can be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence for life if any offence (such as those discussed above) had been committed in the process.
Prior to this, only certain offences, such as voluntarily causing hurt, counted towards a disqualification order.
Sentencing Considerations for Road Rage Offences
The primary sentencing consideration for offences involving road rage violence is both general deterrence (to society) and specific deterrence (to the particular individuals involved in the road rage incident). Deterrence is based on the need to protect road users from violence arising from traffic-related disagreements.
Although offenders of road rage violence can be liable to a custodial term, not all eventually do attract it. Fines may be imposed instead of short custodial terms if they are “high enough to have a deterrent effect”.
The judge will use their discretion to decide whether a fine is “high enough.” For example, in the case of PP v Lim Yee Hua, Lim was fined $4,000 for his first charge of voluntarily causing hurt for punching his victim’s face.
This fine was considered “high enough” because the investigations of the charge had already taken a toll on Lim both financially and in terms of his lack of career advancement. A custodial sentence would also be too excessive as it would end Lim’s career in the SAF and lead to him losing over S$100,000 in accrued benefits.
Custodial sentences are more appropriate for incidents with high harm and/or legal culpability, where the perpetrator’s conduct was far beyond what was acceptable.
In determining the harm and culpability of the offender, the court will take into consideration the following factors:
- Nature and degree of harm caused by the offender
- Whether there was personal injury directly sustained by the victim
- Gravity of the collateral harm or damage caused to other persons or property respectively
- Whether there was disruption or distress caused to the public
- The culpability of the offender, as assessed by the manner in which the assault was carried out:
- The duration of the assault
- Whether the attacks were one-sided
- Whether the attacks were aimed at a vulnerable part of the body
- Whether a weapon was used
- Manner of attack
- Extent of injury
- Whether accused was the instigator.
Nevertheless, as harm and culpability varies depending on the specific facts of each case, the court will look at the facts of each case to decide the type of punishment that should be meted out, and how much.
For example, in the case of PP v Lim Yee Hua, the court decided to substitute the initial $5,000 fine for Lim’s second charge of voluntarily causing hurt with a 3-week imprisonment term on appeal.
The court found that Lim had demonstrated high culpability because Lim was the aggressor and was clearly unprovoked when he had punched the victim’s neck. Lim had prevented the victim from leaving and caused him further hurt despite knowing that the victim was already suffering from abrasions caused from the first incident of violence (i.e. Lim punching the victim’s face).
If the harm and culpability of the offender is low, like in the first incident of violence where the court was of the view that the victim was the aggressor who provoked Lim into attacking him, and the injury caused to the victim was light, then a fine might suffice.
The court, in arriving at a sentence that best fits the facts of the case, may also consider the non-offence specific aggravating and mitigating factors.
- Aggravating factors include:
- Offender lacking remorse
- Offender had similar previous convictions
- Mitigating factors include:
- Whether the offender was a first-time offender
- Whether the offender pleaded guilty at the earliest instance
- Whether the offender showed remorse in any other way
It is also worth noting that testimonials (if any) are accorded little weight in mitigation unless they can demonstrate the connection between the accused’s good past record and his willingness to reform.
The sentencing framework above applies to all road users beyond drivers. Meaning, passengers and pedestrians can be equally liable if they commit a criminal offence in a road rage case. This is motivated by public policy considerations of preventing outbreaks of violence on our roads so as to protect our motorists and road users.
What to Do If You are a Victim of Road Rage in Singapore
If you are caught in a situation of aggressive driving, you should try to contain the situation by disengaging with the provocateur.
Try to switch lanes to avoid contact with the provocateur. If the provocateur is in pursuit, drive to a nearby police station or pull into a busy parking lot and call the police. Having more witnesses may deter the provocateur from being impulsive. When doing so, stay in your car and keep your windows rolled up to prevent the provocateur from harming you.
When the police arrives, you should inform the police of the situation. If they deem the provocateur to have committed an arrestable offence, he may be arrested without a warrant. The offender may then be charged in court.
However, if a non-arrestable offence (e.g. voluntarily causing hurt) may have been committed, the provocateur may not be arrested immediately. If you want action to be taken against the provocateur, you may then need to make a police report of the incident, providing any medical reports of any injury you have sustained.
Together with a copy of your police report, you can then submit a Magistrate’s Complaint to the State Courts. The Magistrate will then decide whether to issue a warrant for the provocateur’s arrest and pursue the matter.
Alternatively, you may submit a traffic violation report to the Traffic Police online. To allow the Traffic Police to look into the matter, you will be required to produce corroborative evidence, such as photographs or videos of the violation, and/or an independent eyewitness who is willing to testify in court.
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