Difference between rash act and negligent act
In the past year, the courts have heard at least four cases of traffic accidents that resulted in death.
The victims were cyclists, pedestrians and foreign workers at the back of a lorry. One of the victims was knocked down by her boyfriend.
All the drivers were handed a driving ban ranging from four to eight years, but their sentences were quite different. (See report above.)
One driver escaped jail time with a fine of $5,000.
So why the difference in punishment?
It depends on whether the driver was charged with a rash act or a negligent act.
The maximum penalty for causing death by a rash act not amounting to homicide is five years in jail, or a fine, or both.
The penalty for a negligent act is lower, with the jail term capped at two years.
AWARENESS OF RISK
Lawyer Edric Pan, a partner in Rodyk & Davidson, said the difference between a rash act and a negligent act is the awareness of risk.
He said: "In a rash act, the driver must be aware, or ought to be aware, that his actions involve the risk of causing injury or death, but he still runs the risk anyway."
Mr Pan uses the example of a motorist driving at high speed towards a crowd of people to illustrate a rash act.
"Although there may have been no intention to cause hurt, any reasonable person would know that his actions would be likely to result in injury or death."
On the other hand, a negligent act involves a person who did not knowingly take a risk, but did not take reasonable care to prevent the accident, he added.
Aggravating factors also matter.
Speeding, driving when over-tired and drink driving would result in a higher sentence, said Mr Pan.
In May, a court of three judges, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, overthrew a longstanding sentencing practice of imposing fines for causing death by negligent driving.
In a 1993 case, former CJ Yong Pung How ruled that if death was caused by a negligent act, a fine would suffice in most cases.
But after examining the case of a woman who was charged with negligent driving, the judges ruled that the "default starting position" in the case of a negligent traffic death should be up to four weeks' imprisonment, subject to aggravating or mitigating factors.
In particular, the presence of aggravating factors would call for a starting point of between two and four months in jail.
The amount of harm caused would also have to be taken into account.
In their written judgment, they said: "We would like to take this opportunity to signal to drivers the consequences of the tremendous risks that they take on, not only to themselves but also to other innocent road users, when they drive despite not being in a fit condition to do so."
- LINETTE HENG
"In a rash act, the driver must be aware, or ought to be aware, that his actions involve the risk of causing injury or death, but he still runs the risk anyway."
— Lawyer Edric Pan