Driving While Using Mobile or Under Influence of Drink or Drugs

Driving While Using Mobile or Under Influence of Drink or Drugs

Introduction

A driver has a responsibility towards himself, the passengers as well as pedestrians and other motorists on the road. This is why any distraction while driving can result in serious consequences. A driver should be of clear mind while driving and should keep his/her eyes on the road for the safety of the people inside the vehicle and outside. The Road Traffic Act 1961 classifies drink driving and using mobile communication while driving as offences and a driver can be penalised for committing such actions.

Use of Mobile Communication Device While Driving

The use of mobile communication devices while driving is categorized as an offence under section 65B of the Road Traffic Act 1961. It states that a driver of a vehicle is guilty of an offence if he or she holds a mobile communication device in his or her hand and uses any of its communicative or other functions while the vehicle is in motion on a road or in a public place.

Section 65B(1A) provides for an exception. It states that using a mobile communication device while driving will not be categorized as an offence if the mobile communication device is a wearable device such as a smartwatch and it is worn by a driver or rider in a manner that was intended by the manufacturer of such wearable device.

Explanation of Communicative Function

Section 65B(3) provides for a list of functions that can be categorized as communicative functions while interpreting this offence. Communicative functions include:

1) Making or receiving audio phone calls or video calls, oral or written messages.
2) Sending or receiving electronic documents.
3) Sending or receiving images whether moving or still.
4) Sending or receiving audio or video files.
5) Accessing the internet.

Explanation of Mobile Communication Device

Apart from a mobile phone, a mobile communication device, under this section, includes any wireless handheld device such as a tablet computer or any wearable device such as a smartwatch which is designed and is capable of being used for communicative functions.

Punishments for Using Mobile Communication Device While Driving

For a first-time offender, the punishment for using a mobile communication device while driving is imprisonment for a period of up to 6 months or a fine of up to $1,000 or both. This is provided under section 65B(1).
Section 65B(2) provides for the punishment for using a mobile communication device while driving for repeat offenders. The punishment is imprisonment for a period of up to 12 months, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.

Driving While Under the Influence of Drink or Drugs

The offence of driving while under the influence of drink or drugs is mentioned under section 67 of the Road Traffic Act. A person commits an offence under this section if while driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or a public place:

1) Is unfit to drive because he or she is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicating substances to the point of being unable to maintain adequate vehicle control.

2) Has consumed so much alcohol that the quantity of it in his or her breath or blood exceeds the legal limit.

One does not need to be over the legal limit for the former. All that has to be demonstrated is that a person is intoxicated and unable to drive the automobile in question. Furthermore, drunkenness by alcohol is not the only thing that is prohibited. This offence can be committed if a person is under the influence of drugs or other intoxicating substances as well, like specific medications or glue sniffing.

Punishment for Driving While Under the Influence of Drink or Drugs

A first-time offender faces a fine of not less than $2,000 and up to $10,000, or a period of imprisonment of not more than 12 months, or both. This implies that a person can receive simply a fine, only a prison sentence, or both a fine and a prison sentence.

A second-time or subsequent offender must serve time in prison. A maximum sentence of 2 years in prison and a fine of $5,000 to $20,000 is the penalty.

Disqualification from Holding or Obtaining a Driver’s License

A person can be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s license for committing the offence of driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. As mentioned under section 67(2), a court convicting a person for an offence under this section in the following cases is to order that the person be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of not less than the specified period corresponding to that case, beginning on the date of the person’s conviction or, where the person is sentenced to imprisonment, on the date of the person’s release from prison, unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to not order or order otherwise. The specified periods are:

1) For first-time offenders – 2 years
2) For repeat offenders – 5 years

If a court convicts a person for driving while under the influence of drink or drugs and the person has been convicted of the same offence under subsection (1) or an offence under section 68 on two or more previous occasions, the court must order that the person be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence for life, unless the court believes it is appropriate for special reasons to order a shorter period of disqualification.

Arrestable Offence

Section 67(3) states that the offence of driving while under the influence of drink or drugs is an arrestable offence. Any individual committing an offence under this provision may be arrested without a warrant by any police officer.

Being In Charge of Motor Vehicle When Under Influence of Drink or Drugs

This offence is committed by anyone who, while in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place but not driving it, is unfit to drive because he or she is under the influence of alcohol, a drug, or another intoxicating substance to the extent that he or she is incapable of maintaining proper control of the vehicle or has so much alcohol in his or her body that the proportion of it in his or her breath or blood exceeds the prescribed limit.

Even though a person is not the driver of a vehicle if they are in charge of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, they may be guilty of an offence.

A person is not regarded in charge of a vehicle, however, if:

1) The person had not driven the vehicle between the time they became unfit to drive and the time of arrest;
2) There was no chance that the person would drive the car at the time of the arrest.

Punishment for Being In Charge of Motor Vehicle When Under Influence of Drink or Drugs

On conviction, a first-time offender faces a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $2,000, or a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 3 months.

A second or subsequent conviction will result in a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000, as well as a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 6 months.

Disqualification from Holding or Obtaining a Driver’s License

On a second or subsequent conviction for being in charge of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drink or drugs, the offender will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence for a period of 12 months from the date of his or her release from prison, unless the court orders otherwise for special reasons, and without prejudice to the court’s power to order a longer period of disqualification.

Arrestable Offence

Section 68(5) states that the offence of being in charge of a motor vehicle when under influence of drink or drugs is an arrestable offence. Any individual committing an offence under this provision may be arrested without a warrant by any police officer.

Recent Cases

1) Public Prosecutor v Ho Jiada [2020] SGMC 28

As the accused went past them from their left to right, two officers noticed the accused using his cell phone while driving his vehicle. The police initially noticed the accused through his side mirror, and as he stepped forward to look through the driver’s door window, he noticed him holding his phone in his left hand and scrolling through a WhatsApp conversation page with his fingers. According to the prosecution, the accused only realised he was being followed and watched by patrol police when one officer signalled him to come to a halt, and when he spotted the officer, he hurriedly put down his phone. In this instance, the accused, a 30-year-old Singaporean, was charged with violating section 65B(1) of the Road Traffic Act by using a mobile communication device while driving a vehicle on the road. He asserted his right to a trial on the charge. The trial lasted three days, and the court acquitted him after concluding that the prosecution had failed to establish its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution filed an appeal. After analysing the evidence and hearing both the parties, the court concluded that the prosecution was unable to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was using a cell phone while driving, and as a result, the court found the accused not guilty of the offence at hand.

2) Toh Teng Seng v Public Prosecutor [2020] SGDC 11

In this instance, the defendant was a 67-year-old Singaporean. He was charged with violating section 65B(1) of the Road Traffic Act by using a mobile communication device while driving a vehicle on the road. He asserted his right to a trial on the charge. The court found him guilty at the conclusion of the trial. After hearing the prosecution’s sentencing arguments and the accused’s mitigation, the court ordered the accused to pay an $800 fine, face 4 days in jail, and be barred from holding or getting a driver’s licence for all classes for a period of six months.

3) Public Prosecutor v Vijayan Mahadevan [2022] SGDC 52

The charge against the accused was that he had so much alcohol in his body while driving a motorcar that the proportion of it in his blood was not less than 174 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and it exceeded the prescribed limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, and he thus committed an offence under section 67(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Act. He was further entitled to be penalized with enhanced punishment under section 67(1) read with section 67(2) of the RTA since he had been convicted of two offences under section 67(1)(b) of the RTA prior to the conduct of this offence, which convictions had not been set aside. Overall, the court sentenced the defendant to eight weeks in jail and a $10,000 fine, with a two-week default term. For a period of seven years, he was also barred from holding or getting any type of driver’s licence. The order of disqualification was to take effect as soon as he was released from prison.

4) Rafael Voltaire Alzate v Public Prosecutor [2022] 3 SLR 993; [2021] SGHC 224

The accused, Alzate, was said to have consumed three or four glasses of whisky. Alzate attempted to ride his motorcycle home after the meeting. He managed to start his motorcycle and ride it a little distance within the parking while inebriated, but he could not make it to the exit. He lost his balance and crashed to the ground with his motorcycle, according to CCTV evidence. He was then unable to lift his motorcycle and hence was unable to continue. He was ultimately apprehended and taken to the police station for a breathalyser test. His breath had 62mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath, according to the test. As a result, he was charged with drink driving under the Road Traffic Act’s sections 67(1)(b) and 67(2)(a). Alzate pled guilty to the crime, and the district judge sentenced him to a $4,000 fine and a 30-month disqualification. On the same day, Alzate filed a notice of appeal, expressing his dissatisfaction with the enforcement of the disqualification order. The court determined that the arguments he presented did not qualify as special reasons, and consequently dismissed his appeal.