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Friday, July 19, 2024


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Be Prepared!

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The Overseas Safe Driving Forum 2023 emphasised being prepared — from pre-trip preparations and route planning to reading up on driving culture and road and weather conditions — as this could save your life!

Organised by the Automobile Association of Singapore, the Overseas Safe Driving Forum 2023 was held at the Cassia Junior Ballroom of the Sands Expo & Convention Centre. Booths were set up by various AAS subsidiaries, such as those dealing with general insurance and adventure driving travel packages.

A total of 160 people turned up for the half-day forum, where they were greeted and welcomed by Automobile Association of Singapore President Mr Bernard Tay. Expressing his delight, Mr Tay warmly acknowledged the attendees as “like-minded road safety enthusiasts”. He added, “Your presence today shows your dedication to promoting road safety and the well-being of your loved ones.”

To underscore why this forum was much needed, Mr Tay, who is also Chairman of the Singapore Road Safety Council, cited accidents that occurred in 2023 involving Singaporeans who were driving in Japan, New Zealand and Malaysia. “Most traffic accidents could have been avoided if the drivers had been better prepared,” he stressed. “Numerous factors could contribute to such incidents, including inadequate pre-trip preparations and route planning, unfamiliar road and weather conditions, and different driving cultures.”

Many of these factors were also addressed by the forum’s speakers, some of whom had specially flown in for the event.


Leading Causes of Vehicle Accidents

Mr Tay Chay Sim, Senior Technical Consultant, AAS Academy, offered some hard-hitting statistics. “About 90% of vehicle crashes are caused by human error,” he stated. He explained that crash risk depends on a number of factors, including environmental (e.g., driving during an unfamiliar season such as winter), vehicular (e.g. driving a rental car that is in poor condition or is an unfamiliar model), speed, following distance, attention level, and fatigue level.

One notable factor contributing to human error is distracted driving, which poses a significant accident risk in the digital age. Mr Tay presented studies that show a 40% reduction in driving-related brain function when the brain has to cope with true/false exercises while behind the wheel. And while talking on a hands-free mobile phone is somewhat safer than holding one while driving, just having a cell phone conversation — either hand-held or hands-free — diminishes activity in the brain’s crucial driving-related areas. In fact, multitasking impairs concentration, decision making, and reaction time, particularly in inexperienced drivers such as teenagers. Mr Tay shared that it is therefore essential to prioritise road focus, avoid distractions, and ensure safety for all passengers.

Other than distracted driving, Mr Tay also shared that driving in a foreign land requires additional preparation. “Safety begins with pre-trip planning,” he advised. This involves deciding  where to go and which roads and highways to take, estimating how long each leg of the journey is going to take, and locating rest stops and other amenities along the way. In addition, you need to research weather conditions at the time of your trip, such as whether you will face ice or strong winds. It is also important to know whether you will be at high altitudes. “If you’re going to be driving above 2,000m above sea level, ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to do so. Also, learn how to manoeuvre your vehicle in these kinds of terrain,” he said.

Insuring Your Safety When Driving In Foreign Countries

Mr Hafiz Razif, Manager, AAS Insurance Agency, highlighted several must-have insurance features consumers should insist on. This includes 24-hour assistance, which allows you to get quick referrals for embassies, legal firms,  integrators and emergency medical services providers. It also provides assistance for lost luggage and passports.

He also advised getting medical cover, making sure there is provision for medical evacuation as this amount is usually high, as well as terrorism cover which covers losses arising directly from a terrorist act.


Know Your Limits on the Roads

Prof Dr Wong Shaw Voon, Chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS), showed a chart on the number of people killed by various causes, ranging from shark attacks (four per annum) to traffic accidents (1.35 million per annum). Yet we seem to pay more respect to sharks than to road safety.

Some other visuals he showed demonstrated the limits of human perception. One showed a group of big cats with camouflage fur coats, making it difficult for drivers to count how many there were. “This is what we call human limit; that’s as much as we can do,” he stressed, referring to how long it took to count the cats. “No matter how hard you train, you are still human and will never become a superhero.” The theme of his message was that, as drivers, we should mitigate our physical and mental limitations and enhance them by early preparation before driving and staying focused while driving.

Prof Dr Wong advised drivers not to be lulled by a false sense of security. For example, although talking hands-free on the phone is legal, it is still quite dangerous because of the intensity of discussions — which draws away the driver’s attention — compared to non-hands-free phones. For members of the audience who were motorcyclists, he advised them to wear their helmets securely. “Otherwise, it’s as good as not wearing helmets,” he quipped, after showing a video clip that proved his point.

Sharing of Practical Tips & Experience on Road Trips in Thailand

Mr Nantapol Khaimuk, Vice President (Adventure), Thai Ecotourism & Adventure Travel Association (TEATA), shared that some areas of Thailand are prone to natural disasters such as flooding, so drivers need to be aware and take heed of such reports.

Mr Nantapol also warned that locals, especially motorcyclists, tend to flout traffic rules, often riding against the traffic flow on road shoulders, turning from an outer lane, and cutting across gaps in the dual carriageway divider to make illegal U-turns. He attributed this behaviour to the mai pen rai (it doesn’t matter) attitude of the Thais. “When placed in the driving context, it means that, I’m careful so I’m going to just cut in front of you to do a U-turn,” he describes. “The cops will probably be lax and won’t enforce the rules, so I’m going to get away with it.”

Another highlight of Mr Nantapol’s presentation was the news clippings of three traffic accidents that occurred in his country involving Singaporeans, with an elephant playing a significant role in one of these accidents.

How to enjoy driving in Japan without traffic accidents

Representing the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), Mr Yoichi Yamamoto shared that the number of Singaporeans visiting Japan has increased by 17.9% since 2019. “The risk of traffic accidents is five times higher for

tourists using rental cars compared to local drivers,” he pointed out. To mitigate this, he advised tourists intending to drive in Japan to familiarise themselves with road markings and traffic signs. “The JAF website, which is in both Japanese and English, is a good resource for this,” he said.

Mr Yoichi also gave advice on driving in winter — “I think you all are interested in this the most,” he quipped. He then screened a video of a car’s braking distance over four types of road surface: wet, covered in snow, ice, and black ice. The third and fourth surfaces took the longest distance for the car to come to a complete stop. “It would be better to avoid frozen roads as much as possible. But the most dangerous surface is the one covered in black ice — it looks like a normal wet surface but it’s a bit more sparkly,” he described.

Challenges Tourist Drivers Face in New Zealand

The first thing Mr Terry Collins did during his presentation was to invite everyone in the audience “to visit my beautiful country”. The Principle Policy Advisor of the Automobile Association of New Zealand then shared some facts and figures about the road system there, among which it has 11,000km of state highway and 87 vehicles per 100 people. “But because 20% of the population are under the age of 14, we actually have more vehicles than adults,” he quipped.

Mr Collins added that New Zealand also has a lot of trucks and tankers, with 93% of freight moved internally by trucks. However, he insisted that these drivers are quite courteous and will pull over for the traffic behind them to pass.

“Because it’s much harder for a truck to start again going uphill rather than downhill, the driver will often do this after getting past the ridge of the hill,” he said. He also advised drivers to give these big vehicles a wide berth, and to never overtake them when they are turning.

Mr Collins also shared some unique things about New Zealand drivers need to be prepared for such as the fact that road conditions can change quickly, unmarked roads and wide-ranging daily temperatures.

He acknowledged that his country was full of spectacular scenery that offered plenty of distractions for drivers. Rather than rubber-necking and putting themselves and their passengers in danger, drivers should take advantage of the numerous pit stops and car parks available around scenic areas to take in the views.

Safe Riding in Urban Cities

Hailing from the Netherlands, Mr Ferry Smith, a member of the Board of Trustee of the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP), centred his talk on making things safe for urban residents on bicycles and other personal mobility devices. He revealed that these modes of transport are growing in

popularity, especially in dense cities as available space becomes scarcer. “This will become more apparent in the next decade as more people come to live in cities,” he said.

Besides being the right size for city living, these modes of transport help improve quality of life for urban residents. Without cars, there can be more space dedicated to parks and other amenities, he pointed out. As they do not have emissions, they do not contribute to global warming and lead to cleaner air and better health.

However, there must be certain systems in place before the widespread use of these devices. “Without these measures, it’s really dangerous,” Mr Smith warns. “It requires a combination of infrastructural, policy, educational and promotional efforts.”

Before municipal authorities implement cycling and other personal mobility devices into the local transport system, Mr Smith suggests they answer three questions to gain clarity:

  • “What’s your goal if you want to implement cycling in your mobility system?”
  • “Where do you stand?”
  • “What is the state of development of your mobility system?”

Member’s Experience Sharing by Mr Tan Hun Twang

One attendee, AAS Member Mr Peter Ng, 65, found the forum illuminating. Thanks to numerous video clips some speakers aired during their presentations, he was alarmed that many traffic accidents involved vehicles that had stopped — for whatever reason — on roads and highways. “I think a lot boils down to fatigue and rest,” he said of the drivers who ploughed into stationary vehicles. “It really makes a lot of difference when you have adequate rest.”

What was the biggest takeaway for him? “It was a good reminder of what to do, what not to do, and how to go about doing it,” he summed up, adding that he looked forward to attending similar events by AAS in the future.

Packed with informative pointers and practical advice, the forum was a resounding success, imbuing attendees with greater confidence in navigating overseas roads on their forthcoming trips.