In the last seven days, a number of high-profile fatal accidents occurred in traffic junctions: the first happened last Thursday, when a taxi made a right turn based on his judgement that it’s safe to do so. It wasn’t and an NUS undergraduate was killed.
The next happened about three days later, when a Mercedes made a right turn, thinking that it is safe to do so. It wasn’t as a bus smashed into it, and a 23-year-old assistant brand manager was killed.
The next horrific accident happened on Monday when a lorry veered into the sideway and killed three pedestrians. It eventually came to a stop at a junction after hitting a bus.
These accidents have prompted people to start an online petition in chang.org to remove, or at least assess, the discretionary right turn. It targets to have 15,000 signatures, and as of now, it has already got 14,192 signatures.
What is the discretionary right turn?
Well, this term might confuse drivers as well.
Whenever a vehicle is at a traffic junction to turn right, there would be two options. This is the first option:
When you see this, you can go straight or turn right. However, if you’re turning right, you’ll have to ensure it’s safe by checking for two things:
- Make sure there’s no car moving forward in the opposite lane (give way: remember these two words)
- Make sure there’s no pedestrian crossing the road into the lane you’re turning into (look out: remember these two words)
In other words, to turn right, you’ve the discretion to ensure that it’s safe to do so.
This is the second option.
Here, you can’t turn right until the red arrow turns green. That’s when the cars in the opposite lane would have to stop, and pedestrians won’t be able to cross the road. It’s much safer, but as you can see, it’ll slow down traffic.
Also, when it’s at like 2:00 a.m. when there’s no other cars or people around, you’re simply wasting your time waiting for nothing.
Removing discretionary right turn—does it work?
I checked the statistics for the main causes of accidents in 2016 based on data from data.gov.sg, and zoom in into accidents that are either fatal or caused serious injury.
Out of 6,498 causes, the highest cause is “Failing to Keep a Proper Lookout”: which is somehow related to the discretionary right turn. The second is “Failing to Have Proper Control”, which I understand isn’t related to the discretionary right turn,
And guess what’s the third highest cause? “Failing to Give Way to Traffic with Right of Way”: that is somehow related to the discretionary right turn, too.
Of the 6,498 causes, 3,611 were related to the discretionary right turn: that is a whopping 55% of all serious accidents.
Now, just a disclaimer: the causes are pretty general, so they might not be fully due to the discretionary right turn. But at least the two ideas of “fail to keep proper lookout and give way to traffic with right of way” are a good representation of the discretionary right turn.
Remember the words I told you to remember earlier? Yeah, “give way” and “look out”.
I completely understand that the discretionary right turn is to improve efficiency, especially in fast-paced Singapore. In fact, the traffic lights near our office used to have a discretionary right turn a few years back, but it changed to a signalled right turn.
Ever since the change, the traffic has crawled to a snail during peak hours. And here’s the thing.
I haven’t seen an accident there, or wasn’t involved in one, so my selfish self obviously preferred discretionary right turn. But perhaps if I’ve seen an accident there, then maybe I’ll put my self-interest aside and look at the bigger picture.
Perhaps this string of accidents could fulfil the same purpose.
After all, if we can remove the need for people to “give way” or “look out”, there might be less accidents. Just maybe.
Do come back tomorrow for more commentaries!
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