Man has phobia of heavy vehicles after crane ploughs into his car
When Mr Johnson Anthony woke up on Wednesday with his wife beside him, it was the most beautiful morning of his life.
"It is the best feeling in the world. I am still alive," he says.
The evening before, he was driving his black Skoda Octavia VRS with a friend, heading to a fish-head curry restaurant for dinner via the Kranji Expressway.
Suddenly, Mr Anthony, 33, heard loud metallic booms ring out from behind.
A second later, an eight-wheeled mobile crane ploughed through a metal barrier on another lane and smashed into the left side of his car.
It hit a tree and several more vehicles before coming to a stop.
"I thought we were hit by a freight train. The whole thing seemed like a Michael Bay movie," recounts the human resources director.
Hollywood director Bay is known for directing big-budget action films such as Transformers and Armageddon.
Mr Anthony and his friend staggered out of his wrecked car to a scene of shocked faces and twisted metal.
They both suffered pain in the neck, back and shoulders.
Three children in a taxi were also bleeding from the mouth, he says.
In all, 12 vehicles were involved in the massive pile-up.
Miraculously, nobody died.
Police are investigating the incident.
Reality set in for Mr Anthony only when a traffic officer patted him and said: "You are lucky to be alive."
He and his friend were taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, where he was told to take two days medical leave.
"My wife kept crying when she found out. I could have been killed, I could have lost everything," he says.
His brother, Mr Solomon Anthony, posted a video of the accident captured by his in-car camera on YouTube, where it went viral.
The video shows the crane crashing into his vehicle from the rear.
He says: "I have not watched the video.
"I don't want to relive the memories. My family doesn't talk about it either to let me forget what happened."
Days after his narrow escape, he is still having sleepless nights replaying the accident in his head.
He has also developed a phobia of heavy vehicles, he says.
Mr Anthony's accident was not the only one involving heavy vehicles in the past week.
On March 3, a truck struck a police car that was acting as a buffer for an earlier accident scene. The truck nearly hit a police officer.
That same day, a tipper truck crashed into a road-milling machine in Eunos, trapping the truck driver until he was freed by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
One of the worst accidents was in 2013.
Two young boys were killed by a cement mixer at a Tampines traffic light junction, shining the spotlight on heavy vehicle road safety here.
But two years after the Tampines accident, fatalities in accidents involving heavy vehicles remain high.
Last year, there were 44 deaths involving heavy vehicles, up from 32 in 2012.
Mr Anthony, who read about the Tampines accident, had little opinion on heavy vehicle drivers then.
That changed on Tuesday. He now wants heavy vehicle drivers to wise up before more accidents occur.
"When I see a heavy vehicle on the road, I move out of the way.
"But there was nothing I could do to avoid this one. I never thought that I would come this close to becoming another statistic."
Tough being a trucker
- TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
It is not easy being a trucker, says container truck driver Salehin Yahya (above), 33.
It means spending more than 10 hours on the road every day and keeping awake with sweets, loud music and bottles of Coca-Cola.
It also means being in hour-long queues in Tuas and Changi, waiting to pick up or return empty containers.
And because you cannot park anywhere, it means truckers mostly end up eating takeout in styrofoam containers in their cabins every day.
Survive that and you get $15 to $20 for each successful trip made. Mr Salehin averages six trips a day.
But the most frustrating part of the job is when other road-users fail to understand the nature of their vehicles and take advantage of their slow speed.
Says Mr Salehin, who joined Bok Seng Logistics a year ago: "It is annoying when drivers suddenly cut into my lane and jam their brakes.
"They don't understand that my vehicle takes time to brake and react."
Worse still are the jaywalkers and people who dash across roads.
"Whenever I see pedestrians, I have to go extremely slow and keep on checking my mirrors. It is stressful because there are many parts around the vehicle that I can't see."
And when accidents involving heavy vehicles appear on the news, people are always quick to assume that the blame lies on the heavy vehicle driver.
Comments calling for the driver to be jailed or punished, even before the police investigation concludes, has a demoralising effect on drivers across the industry.
TOO SLOW, TOO FAST
"Sometimes, the criticism might not be valid. If we go too slow, other drivers won't be happy. If we go too fast, we get criticised too," says Mr Salehin.
Drivers like him have plenty of incentives to be safe on the roads.
"If we meet with an accident, our record (is blemished). Our safety bonus will be taken away," he says.
Depending on their years of service, his company awards $100 to $300 in bonuses to each driver every year provided they keep a clean safety record.
"It is not like we are out to cause danger. I want to go home safely too."
Changes to regulations take time, says road safety taskforce member
The KJE accident came three days after the Land Transport Authority announced the need for additional blind-spot mirrors for all buses and heavy vehicles.
Since 2013, heavy vehicles caught speeding have to go through additional inspections to ensure that their speed limiters are working properly.
The Safer Roads Industry Taskforce (SRIT) was also set that year with a mandate to promote safer driving for vocational drivers, in the wake of the Tampines accident earlier that year.
Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC, Mr Baey Yam Keng, says: "It's not right. Any life lost is one too many.
"A lot of these drivers are paid for each trip they make. It pressures drivers to complete more trips to earn more money, causing them to rush."
He believes that companies should also be punished if their drivers are responsible for causing accidents.
"Right now, only the driver is penalised and the companies are not. This is something that needs to be looked at."
Says Mr Poh Key Boon, director of transportation and warehousing of Poh Tiong Choon Logistics: "The pay-per-trip system is something we have discussed about.
"It is an industry practice that has been around for many years, and you can't take it away."
His company employs around 400 heavy vehicle drivers. They make between $10 to $20 per trip.
PAY PER TRIP
Mr Poh says the industry faces a unique "problem" - while drivers have their supervisors, it is not easy to keep track of what the drivers are doing.
"If we pay by a monthly or hourly wage, we won't know if the driver is actually completing the trip or doing something else," he says.
"But if we pay per trip, the drivers will want to complete a trip, and even come back to us if there are any problems."
Likewise, he says the suggestion to penalise companies when their drivers cause accidents would not work.
"What's the point of penalising the companies when it will just pay the fine and continue about its business?"
He says that businesses already have a vested interest in safety as accidents mean more downtime, lower productivity and higher insurance premiums.
But not all in the industry share the same mindset, says Mr Poh.
"At Poh Tiong Choon, we have a separate division dedicated to safety.
"Smaller companies might not even have safety departments, whereas we have five managers here whose job is to do that."
Bok Seng Logistics health and safety manager M. Nor Atan agrees.
"Companies want to surpass the minimum safety standards so that customers can trust us.
"But I believe there are some companies out there which only do the bare minimum," says Mr Atan, whose company has around 90 heavy vehicle drivers.
It is also one of the first few companies - including ComfortDelGro and Poh Tiong Choon Logistics - which has installed a hi-tech road safety device in its fleet.
Known as Mobileye, it is a driver warning system that can sense road markings, pedestrians and other road users, alerting the driver if there is a potentially dangerous situation.
It also keeps a log of the mistakes made, which can be accessed by the company and shared with the authorities.
But it does not come cheap - it costs around $2,500 per unit.
Bok Seng's group chief executive officer Dave Ng says: "The system costs money but we want to tell the industry that if any accidents happen, it will actually cost them even more."
As one of the SRIT members, he reveals that Mobileye and other similar products will become mandatory in all heavy vehicles once the recommendations are announced.
Firms are expected to receive subsidies for installing the device in their fleets, he says.
The New Paper on Sunday understands that a new driving academy for vocational drivers is also being considered.
Why has it taken more than two years since the Tampines accident to implement these changes?
Says Mr Ng: "There are too many parties involved with different interests. Heavy vehicles don't just include trucks, but buses, cranes and many others as well."
A new idea also takes time to implement, he explains.
Mr Anthony, who nearly lost his life in that heavy vehicle accident, says: "If (heavy vehicle) drivers make a mistake, it is at the expense of other road users because (their vehicles) are much bigger.
"They can come up with a 1,001 laws but it comes down to the driver's own mentality about safety."