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Too Easy To Convert Foreign Licences?

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Too easy to convert foreign licences?

By Ethan Lou

Most of you will remember the Bugis crash back in May involving a Ferrari driven by a Chinese national that beat a red light.

It rammed into a taxi and three people died, including the driver.

A motorcyclist was also hurt.

In the aftermath of the accident, a big question on the lips of many was this: Are foreign- licence holders getting Singapore licences too easily?


» Why so easy for foreigners to drive in Singapore

» Stories from the horrific Ferrari crash

Getting a driving licence from scratch in Singapore is not easy for many.

I hold a Singapore car licence and two motorcycle licences, and it took me seven long months of lessons and over $3,000 to qualify for them.

This included taking three practical tests and several theory tests.

But, on the other hand, anyone with a foreign licence can convert it into a Singapore licence very easily.

Take my friend, who studied in Australia, for example.

He converted his Australian licence into a Singapore one just by taking a basic theory test - a test so easy for him that he didn't even study for it.

People are screaming foul over this, not only because they think foreign-licence holders are having it too easy, but also because the reverse doesn't always apply.

When I was living in Canada, I had to sit for both theory and practical tests to get my motorcycle licence there.

Ontario, the province I was in, does not allow holders of Singapore licences to convert them by just taking a theory test, even though we allow it.

But this isn't the case for those with licences from some countries.

Those with licences from countries such as Japan and Australia can convert to an Ontario licence without taking any tests.

Several countries with many immigrants - such as Britain, the United States and Australia - also closely examine the licensing process in other nations and have different conversion procedures for different groups of countries.

That makes sense. Every country licenses their drivers differently.

But in Singapore, the conversion procedure in many cases is the same, regardless of where the original licence was from.

The traffic police said in May that only 0.1 per cent of the 369,637 drivers with converted foreign licences contributed to accidents.

But that's still more than 300 accidents.

This number could be reduced with more customised conversion procedures.

That's why I'm unfazed by the motorcycle practical test I had to take in Ontario.

Motorcyclists are very vulnerable road users, and I feel a lot safer with Ontario's more stringent criteria for foreign-licence conversion.

It could mean less under-qualified drivers on their roads and maybe even one less accident. Thankfully, our authorities are catching on.

Currently, holders of foreign heavy-vehicle licences cannot convert them here by just taking a basic theory test. They have to take a practical test.

In May, the traffic police reiterated that they are reviewing the licensing process for foreign drivers of vehicles that transport people and goods in the course of their work.

However, this does not apply to those who drive for personal or recreational purposes.

I'm not holding my breath for foreign car- or bike-licence conversions.

And neither, it seems, is Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Public Transport Council and former president of the Automobile Association of Singapore.

Said Mr Ee: "Let's say if I decide drivers from particular countries are high risk and I want them to go through a test before they can drive here, I'm telling the world I don't trust their testing standard. It's like a slap in the face of (those countries).

"Logically, the answer is yes (to such conversions involving tests), but politically, the answer is no," he said.

The traffic police haven't finished their review on licensing procedures but an update is expected in the middle of next year.

Whatever direction they might lean towards, I hope the parties can address motorists' concerns and look into the conversion process for all foreign vehicle licences, including those for cars and bikes.



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