FACT No 1: In a rear-ender accident, the vehicle behind is almost always at fault.
Fact No 2: Minor injuries such as whiplash and sprains are almost impossible to prove.
Orthopaedic surgen Dr Tan Jee Lim observes that even MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can only pick up soft tissue injuries in the early stages.
“In cases older than three weeks, MRI is not very effective,” he says. “However, a negative MRI cannot rule out a whiplash injury.”
Fact No 3: Armed with Fact 1 and 2, unscrupulous motorists are making money from insurance claims, working knowingly or unknowlingly with parties that may or may not include workshops, lawyers and doctors.
Fact No 3 is of course difficult to prove. It requires lots of time and effort on the part of an insurance company and the aggrieved policyholder to pursue a suspected case of abuse to the end.
Most parties will simply settle the claim, after a bit of bargaining. At the end of the day, policyholders will collectively shoulder the cost of such claims.
On the other side of the coin, some insurers tend to drag their feet when dealing with claims – whether they are genuine or not. This only encourages claimants to seek legal action to expedite the process. And when legal action is involved, the claim amount rises.
This unfortunately is the sorry state of affairs – not only in Singapore, but in almost every developed nation where people are more aware of their “rights”.
But before laying the blame squarely on litigious individuals, crooked workshops, ambulance-chasing lawyers, incompetent insurance claims managers and doctors who prefer to err on the side of caution, motorists at large should do some soul-searching.
One of the first questions they should ask is: How do I drive?
By and large, the blunt, honest answer to that may be: Badly.
Yes, people in Singapore drive like they own the road. I have driven in many countries and I say this with shame that Singapore’s standard of driving does not rank high among countries in the developed world.
We do not signal, we road-hog, we overtake on the left, we do not give way, we do not keep a safe distance, we change lanes incessantly just so we can arrive half a second earlier, we speed mindlessly.
And that’s on a good day.
How many times have you witnessed drivers holding a phone to their ear while on the expressway? Worse still, texting? There are still those who refuse to belt up, or worse, refuse to buckle up their children.
To add to the Molotov mix, we have cabbies desperate for fares (no thanks to surge in taxi population), more foreigners at the wheel (many from countries with, gasp, worse driving habits than Singapore), and an inability by the authorities to fit effective speed-limiters that are tamper-proof on heavy commercial vehicles (little hope then, on other commercial vehicles).
Our road safety statistics say it all. Last year, 222 people died from road accidents, and 10,964 were injured. That compared with 214 and 10,566 respectively in 2007.
Between 2003 and 2007, more than 44,000 people were injured on the roads. The annual figure crossed the 10,000-mark in 2007 to hit 10,250 – 30 per cent more than in 2003 and outpacing the 16.5 per cent growth in vehicle population in that timeframe.
Of course the authorities will point out that Singapore’s human and vehicle population had risen in tandem; and that the accident-population ratio is still within the norms of the developed world.
That may well be true. But for a country that has outlawed littering, chewing gum and smoking in practically all public spaces, you’d expect a better-than-average road safety record.
Again, it would be wrong to point the finger solely at the authorities (for one, there just aren’t enough traffic cops here). Improving the standard of driving here starts with the individual – that is, you and me.
If that doesn’t happen, there will continue to be ample opportunity for dishonest folks to make a buck from a bang-up.