Valets aren't police officers
They take precautions in dealing with drunk drivers, but ultimately...
A 21-year-old drunk driver died in July last year after his car overturned along Bukit Timah Road.
One of Mr Fabian Ong's friends had hired a valet to take him home because he was in no condition to drive, but he had insisted the valet let him drive.
During Thursday's Coroner's Inquiry, the driver's mother, Ms Ong Li Li, repeatedly questioned valet Ian Liew on why he did not stop her son from driving off from the petrol station.
Speaking through an interpreter, she asked in Mandarin why the valet did not ask for extra help when he agreed to take Mr Ong home, knowing that he was intoxicated.
"If they knew they couldn't handle a drunk customer, why didn't they just turn down his business?" she asked.
While the Investigation Officer said he was in no position to answer Ms Ong's question, State Coroner Marvin Bay noted that valets do not have powers of arrest like police officers.
He added that he found Ms Ong's suggestions "interesting" and said public education is important in the current case.
Ms Ong told The New Paper that her son's death should serve as a call to address the "lapses" in the "drive-home service" industry.
For inebriated customers, she felt that more than one valet should be deployed to ensure the customer does not snatch the wheel.
She said: "In future, when they see that a customer is so drunk that one valet cannot handle him, they should have two or even three valets to watch over him or call the police."
Manager of Excellent Valet Service Management, Mr Kenny Tan, who oversees valet operations at Central, a nightclub on Magazine Road, felt Mr Ong's driver could have done more.
He said: "We deal with expensive cars and people's lives here, so we have to make sure they get home safe."
Mr Tan said his drivers abide by strict procedures, like making sure the customer remains in the passenger seat and is belted up.
"We have only one destination for them: home. That is why we ask for their IC up front, to make sure we know where to drive them to," he added.
Although none of his customers has snatched the wheel, Mr Tan said his drivers would not allow their drunk customers to drive.
If threatened with physical violence, they would call the police.
He said: "Once we accept the job, we will complete it. Even if they insist, we will not let them drive."
But private valet Andrew Yong from Valet Driver Singapore said drivers cannot stop customers who insist on taking over.
Mr Yong, who has been in the business for more than three years, said: "As much as we want to restrain them, we have to respect them as customers and we cannot stop them from doing what they want to do."
Should a customer insist on taking over the wheel, Mr Yong said he would check before stopping the vehicle.
He said: "It is still their car after all and being accused of stealing is the last thing I want for my drivers. If customers insist on taking the wheel, we have to give it to them - but we will call the police."
A valet company owner who wanted to be known only as Mr Suresh said there is very little a valet can do when an drunk customer acts up.
"Sometimes, we just stop so they can get out and vomit, maybe even help them clean up," he said.
"But we do not touch them in case they lose something and they accuse us of stealing it."
Mr Suresh, who runs the valet services for a major hotel chain, said his company tries not to provide drive-home services except to regular customers.
"When people are drunk, you don't know what they can get up to, so we want to prevent as much misunderstanding as possible."
Companies like Mr Tan's charge about $50 for their services, while the private ones like Mr Yong charge around $38.
- Additional reporting by Elizabeth Law
As much as we want to restrain them, we have to respect them as customers and we cannot stop them from doing what they want to do.
- Private valet Andrew Yong from Valet Driver Singapore
Valets can't restrain drunk drivers: Lawyers
Valets have no right to physically restrain a drunk customer from driving.
Lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said: "If the valet uses force to physically restrain the driver, he could be charged with using criminal force on him.
"If the situation escalated and the two men started fighting, both could be hauled to court for affray.
"And if the situation escalated some more and the valet hit the driver, he could be charged with voluntarily causing hurt."
Commenting on the case of Mr Fabian Ong, lawyer Louis Joseph said that the valet cannot be held responsible for failing to stop him from driving away.
He said: "The valet owed Fabian no duty of care. He had turned up to drive him home, but his service was rejected."
SHOULD HAVE CALLED POLICE
Mr Joseph added that the valet could instead have called the police about the situation.
Another lawyer, Mrs Gloria James-Civetta, said an alternative is to have one of Mr Ong's friends dissuade him from getting into his car.
When asked if the valet could have conducted a citizen's arrest in a case like Mr Ong's, lawyers The New Paper spoke to all said "no".
Mr Joseph explained that while a member of public can conduct a citizen's arrest in Singapore, the situations "must be primarily based on cases of self-defence, defence of others and defence of property".
He said: "For instance, you can conduct a citizens' arrest if somebody comes towards you with a knife or if you see someone else getting assaulted in public.
"You can also do so if you see a loanshark runner setting fire to somebody's doorstep.
"These offenders can then be detained by using reasonable force."
A citizen's arrest is therefore not applicable in the case involving Mr Ong, he said.
- Shaffiq Alkhatib