Traffic lights

By Alan Grant

In such a law-abiding society as Singapore, why do so many drivers beat the red lights?

It’s almost as if amber means speed up, and a red means stop in five seconds time.

I would say this malaise is partly down to motorists feeling that with such a minimal traffic police presence on our streets and roads, they know they won’t get caught.

Factor in, too, the commonly held perception that the few red-light cameras that exist don’t function properly, and many drivers just take advantage of those extra few seconds after the amber to beat the lights.

It’s a terrible attitude.

And before the angry netizen brigade launch into a tirade against the interfering “angmoh”, I’m not saying it is just a Singapore problem or that it is only Singaporeans that run the red lights here. But we’re here in Singapore together so let’s all address our problem.

Everybody is aware of the infamous Ferrari incident in May this year, when a sports car shot through a red light at the Rocher/Victoria Road junction in the wee hours of the morning, killing the driver and two others in a spectacular high-speed crash.



The problem is widespread and shouldn’t be highlighted only when fatalities occur.

To demonstrate this, I stood at the busy Farrer Road/Queensway/Holland Road junction for half an hour the other day and counted 26 incidents of drivers blatantly running the red. Yes, I observed Westerners in among the mix.

I could cover just two of the four feeder roads into the junction and in those 30 minutes, the lights changed 29 times for my purposes.

In addition to the 26 clear-cut culprits, I counted another 36 drivers going through the lights on amber.

Just in case some of you didn’t know, an amber light means stop unless you’re too close to the lights to do so safely.

Some of my amber offenders, no doubt, were legitimate cases, but we’re supposed to be slowing down as we approach a set of lights in anticipation of the green turning amber, not speeding up.

Aside from anecdotal evidence and my “scientific” research, police statisticss back up the perception that beating red lights is a growing menace.

Traffic Police figures for the first nine months of this year showed that 13,881 motorists were caught running red lights, a 3 per cent growth from the same period last year.

Whether the rise was due to increased police vigilance or the more likely reason of more drivers getting the bad habit, the numbers project to a sobering 18,500 incidents for the whole year. Or 50 a day!

And that’s just the people getting caught. Imagine how many drivers are risking their own and other people’s lives at every minute of the day here by running those red lights?



It is almost as if we forget that we are driving two tonnes of metal that can cause enormous damage on impact.

What can and is being done? More traffic police patrol cars, for one.

When I moved here from New York in 2004, one of the things I noticed immediately was that there seemed to be hardly any police, either on the streets or in patrol cars. Sure, I’d just been living in a city not long-removed from a major terrorist strike, but the contrast was startling.

Visiting friends and family always make the same comment. This is a great reflection on Singapore society, but I’m sure it’s part of the problem when it comes to the poor driving habits on display here, as people simply know they can get away with tail-gating, lane switching, refusal to use their indicators… and beating red lights.



Technology can help too. Studies around the world have shown that the installation of red-light cameras drastically reduces the problem. The US city of Seattle, for example, found a 50 per cent decrease in the crime over a 12-month period after it introduced the cameras.

It’s good to know that Singapore is on board with this, but is enough being done? In Parliament two weeks ago, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said that the traffic police operates red-light cameras at known trouble spots, but my question is, why can’t they be at all junctions? That would surely stop the problem dead in its tracks.

It’s reassuring to know that the Deputy Prime Minister also confirmed that the traffic police are in the process of upgrading the old film-based red-light cameras with a digital system.

The old setup is flawed in that once the film runs out no more offenders are captured. And drivers seem to know this.

Bigger fines might help too. The current penalties of S$200-S$250 could be doubled or more, and why not slap an offender with a short driving ban?

A bit harsh, you may think, but crashing into another car just because you’re in a hurry is a bit harsh, too.

The easiest way to stem the red-light tide, of course, is for us to all just slow down a bit. That way, we could ensure that red doesn’t sometimes mean dead.


(Alan Grant is a Singapore-based writer who has worked at such illustrious places as The Straits Times, Time Out Singapore, and I-S Magazine. He is also completely obsessed by all things cycling, and regularly races his bikes throughout the region.)

(The views and opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone)

Taken from inSing