Driving in Singapore

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The Pan Island Expressway, one of the main expressways in the Singapore road network.
Nuvola Singaporean flag.svg
Life in Singapore

In Singapore, cars and other vehicles drive on the left side of the road, as in neighbouring Malaysia. This reflects their common history of British colonial rule, when British rules of the road were adopted across its Empire, which also included India, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong in the Asia-Pacific region.

The per capita car ownership rate in Singapore is 12 cars per 100 people (1 car per 8.33 people). This compares with the per capita rate of 1 car per 2.09 people in Brunei.[1]


Geylang Road was one of the earliest roads built in Singapore.

The earliest roads in Singapore, after its founding in 1819, were laid out in the Jackson Plan of 1822 in keeping with Sir Stamford Raffles's directions. A grid system was adopted for the town with roads for carriages being 16 yards (15 m) wide, and those for horses four yards wide. Pedestrian paths along the roadsides were two yards wide, allowing room for two people to walk abreast and giving rise to the five-foot ways that came to be associated with the sheltered walkways along roadside shops[citation needed].

These roads were fairly advanced for the time, with Macadam surfacing used on High Street, Singapore as early as 1821. Roads were also constructed across the rest of the island, although they were usually unsurfaced. By 1842, Changi Point in the eastern tip was accessible via an extension of Geylang Road, while Pasir Panjang Road reached Jurong River in the west. The Bukit Timah Road was also extended to Kranji in the north by 1845, where the nearby Johor-Singapore Causeway was built almost 80 years later in 1924. Even so, only about 340 kilometres of road were built in the century after 1820, compared to more than 2,000 kilometres in the four decades after 1965[citation needed].

As with many other urban areas of the time, the earliest modes of road transport were via ponies, and then horse-drawn carriages. Batak ponies from the Sultanate of Deli in Sumatra were introduced into the Malaya in the Dutch era, and were often called palonguins or later gharries. They proved too small for the larger carriages introduced later by the Europeans, whose parades were used as fashion statements for the social elite around the Padang and were soon joined by their affluent Chinese and Arabic counterparts. So important were these parades in the networking opportunities they provided that merchants were known to voluntarily pay to build the public roads or to speed up road construction. Collyer Quay, for example, was constructed purely by private funding[citation needed].

The most well-to-do would typically own their carriages and horses, often employing native Indian servants (popularly known as Syces) to maintain them. Carriages for hire soon became available as well, with hackneys and gharries being the earliest forms of taxis in Singapore. Another early use of pony-drawn carriages was that of the Singapore Fire Brigade, the predecessor of today's Singapore Civil Defence Force[citation needed].

Driving licence[edit]

Obtaining a driving licence[edit]

Class 3/3A[edit]

A class 3 or class 3A licence permits the holder to drive motorcars weighing less than 3000 kg when unladen and may not carry more than 7 passengers, excluding the driver. In addition, the holder may drive a motor tractor or other motor vehicles with an unladen weight of less than 2500 kg. A class 3A licence limits the holder to drive motor vehicles without a clutch pedal, typically automatic transmission cars, whereas a class 3 licence allows the holder to drive all motor vehicles. Class 3A drivers are not allowed to drive manual transmission cars.[2]

Drivers must be 18 years old in order to qualify for a licence including applying for theory lessons. Once a driver passes the Basic Theory Test (BTT), (s)he must apply for a Provisional Driving Licence (PDL), which lasts for six months, before taking practical driving lesson. However, a student can choose to apply and pass the Final Theory Test (FTT) before applying for a PDL and starting driving lessons. The last stage of obtaining a driving licence is the practical driving test for which a student must have a FTT pass result slip and a PDL.

The driving theory tests each contain 50 questions and last for 50 minutes, with a pass mark of 45 out of the 50 questions correct. Results are shown immediately after the test on the same touchscreen monitor.

Driving with a foreign licence in Singapore[edit]

From Singapore Traffic Police Website "Foreigners who reside here for less than twelve (12) months must possess a valid foreign licence and International Driving Permit (IDP) issued by an authorised body in their country of origin e.g. the Automobile Association (AA). If an International Driving Permit is not available, an official translation of your foreign licence in English is required. Driver from ASEAN member countries only need to possess a valid driving licence issued by the relevant driving licence Authority in order to drive in Singapore without IDP.".[3]

Conversion to a Singapore licence is often possible for certain class of vehicles. Please refer to Singapore Traffic Police Website for details.[4]

Renewal of Licence[edit]

No renewal of a driving licence is required for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents since the introduction of the photocard licence. The driving licence is valid to age 65.

After age 65, a medical check up every 3 years is required to renew their motorcar and/or motorcycle license (Class 3/3A/2B/2A/2). For goods vehicles (Class 4/5), annual renewals requiring annual medical checkups are required until they reach the upper limit of 70 years old.

Foreign drivers in Singapore[edit]

Foreigners who have converted to/obtain a Singapore licence are supplied with a limited-duration licence which needs to be renewed between 1 month before expiry to 3 years after expiry.

After this period, the conversion procedure or licensing theory and practical tests must be done all over again.

Riding motorcycles registered on a different holder[edit]

In Singapore, it is illegal to ride a motorcycle if the rider's name is not entered in the insurance contract. For each motorcycle, only one co-rider can be entered, but the procedure to change the co-rider is comparatively quick and easy.

Driver Improvement Points System[edit]

The Driver Improvement Points System (DIPS) is a system whereby demerit points will be added to the driver's record. The system is meant to deter drivers from infringing the rules-of-the-road and, if they do, suspend their driving licence for a period of time. This system requires offenders to retest and pass the driving test again from the beginning.

If a driver accumulates 24 demerit points within a period of two years, he/she will be suspended from driving for three months. If he/she had been suspended before, he/she will only be allowed to accumulate less than 12 demerit points in a period of 12 months. Initially, this system was only used for Singapore driving licence holders until 1 November 1, 1999, when the traffic police extended the system to foreign driving licence holders which states that any foreigner who accumulates 24 demerit points in two years will be prohibited from driving in Singapore for three months (first time prohibition) and up to a maximum of three years for subsequent offenders.

Currently, drivers are given demerit points if they commit certain traffic offences such as speeding and passengers not fastening their seat belts.[5]

Roads in Singapore[edit]

Electronic Road Pricing[edit]

ERP gantry

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) in Singapore implemented an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme to deter traffic congestion during peak hours at various roads. The ERP scheme requires electronic gantries to be placed over the road at designated locations and that cars be equipped with an In-Vehicle Unit (IU), a rectangular device pasted on the inside bottom right of the front windscreen from the driver's view, which will deduct the toll price from a CashCard. The CashCard must be inserted into the device, and to fail to do so is in violation of law. There is no charge for entering the area during certain non-peak times.


The cost of parking in many upgraded car parks can be deducted from the CashCard inserted in the IU of the vehicle, thus eliminating the need for the car park to have an attendant. Although the cost of parking (which is published[6]) is variable, parking costs tend to be much less expensive compared to London and New York. For example, the Centrepoint shopping centre charges S$1 (approximately US$0.70) for the first hour. For comparison, garages in New York near 5th Avenue and 57th Street charge between US$12 and US$26 for one hour of parking.[7]

Some car parks in Singapore are even more advanced, containing car parking space sensors which detect whether the position is filled or not. This information is processed and displayed in signs around the car park, directing drivers to areas where there are free spaces.

Road Signs in Singapore[edit]

During British colonial rule, Singapore's road rules and legislature which govern the design and layout of the road signs were directly imported from Britain. As such, most road signs in Singapore are similar to their counterparts in the United Kingdom. For example, warning signs are a depicted as red triangles and mandatory regulative signs are depicted as blue circles.

However, several aspects of road signage and traffic calming measures adopted locally developed standards after independence. Major deviations are as follows:

1. A locally developed typeface is used in favour for the road signs, instead of Transport which was adopted in Britain.

2. In 1998, a system of black-on-yellow 'curve alignment markers' were widely adopted and gradually replaced the British system of using white-on-black sharp deviation signs to delineate sharp turns.

3. In the late 1990s, all the circular regulatory signs and triangular warning signs were mounted to a one-size-fits-all square white backing board to improve conspicuity on a complex background (e.g. trees).

4. In the early 2000s, signs at road works are usually black-on-red-orange with diamond and rectangular shaped, which are similar to the Taiwanese system.

Most roads, bridges, roundabouts and tunnels are marked with signposts with the road's name. The expressways in Singapore are not numbered (unlike most other countries), but are named. Road signs abbreviate the full name of the expressway into three representative letters, such as the PIE for Pan Island Expressway or the ECP for East Coast Parkway respectively.

Almost all road signs in Singapore are in English although many road names have a Malay origin. Typically, "Jalan" is used for "Road" and "Lorong is used for "Lane". Multilingual road signs exist, especially for historically ethnic enclaves like Chinatown or Little India, or for landmarks. For example, some directional signs pointing to Hindu or Chinese temples are bilingual or trilingual (English, Chinese or Hindu). Bilingual signage dates to the early days of Singapore.

5. Curiously enough, even on the larger signs, road names are almost never spelt out in full. For example 'road' is rarely spelt out in full, rather it is almost always displayed as 'Rd'.'Bukit' is abbreviated as 'Bt', 'boulevard' as 'blvd', 'street' as 'st' and so on. A road name with a shorter name simply results in a shorter sign. However, there are exceptions, such as 'lorong', 'jalan', and roads that end with less common words such as 'walk', 'hill', and 'park'.

Left Turn or Right Turn at a red traffic light[edit]

Left Turn

In Singapore, it is illegal to turn left (into the nearest lane, due to the left-hand driving) during a red light. This rule, however, does not apply if a 'Left Turn On Red' sign is present at the junction, allowing left turning motorists to turn left, provided they stop before the stop line and give way to pedestrians and incoming traffic.

Right Turn

It is illegal to turn right during a red light in Singapore.

Right turns are permissible only when one's lane has the green light signal and the opposing traffic lane, travelling in the opposite direction, is clear and favourable to execute a right turn. However, green turning signals (the outline of a right-pointing arrow) are installed onto some traffic lights.

These rules in Singapore are similar to many countries that employ left-hand traffic, and unlike countries which permit turns on red.

Traffic safety[edit]

Driving safety[edit]

Driving while using a hand-held mobile phone is prohibited, as is drinking and driving. Paragraph 72(1) of the Road Traffic Act (Chapter 276) stipulates that the "prescribed limit" of alcohol intoxication is (a) 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; or (b) 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. However, it is also illegal to "drive while impaired."

Car safety crash tests[edit]

The Singapore government accepts the crash safety standards of the EU and Japan. Cars made in the EU and Japan which pass local standards do not need to pass additional safety standards to be sold in Singapore. Cars may be privately imported into Singapore if they have an EU Certificate of Conformity or the Japanese Completion Inspection Certificate, both of which incorporate emissions and safety standards.[8] Not all cars sold in Singapore have been tested by the EuroNCAP, a car safety testing organisation jointly operated by several European government agencies,[9] that crash tests cars that can be legally sold in several European countries.[10]

Buying a car in Singapore[edit]

Many regulations concerning buying and driving a car are administered by the Land Transport Authority, the successor to the Registry of Vehicles.

Certificate of Entitlement[edit]

New car buyers are required to buy a Certificate of Entitlement. The term "bidding" is often used but, in practice, new car dealers assist in the process. The fee of each successfully obtained COE is added on the costs of a new car based on engine size (usually lower for cars with 1600cc engine or smaller, and higher vice versa). The COE is valid for 10 years. There are provisions for a rebate of the COE if the car is scrapped before 10 years.

The COE costs have increased in recent years. The January 2012 COE for Cat A (1600 cc engine and below) was $48,112 and Category B (1601 cc engine and larger) was $67,889.[11] The January 2013 COE for Cat A (1600 cc engine and below) was $87,109 and Category B (1601 cc engine and larger) was $92,901.[12]

New Car Loan Measures cause COE costs to dip. As the government steps up in curbing the rise of owning a car. Monetary Authority of Singapore will review the car loan policy to ensure that Singaporeans will have reasonable opportunities to buy a car with adequate financing.[13]

The April 2013 COE for Cat A (1600 cc engine and below) was $62,497 and Category B (1601 cc engine and larger) was $62,000. [14]

Preferential Additional Registration Fee[edit]

A car owner may apply for a portion of the Preferential Additional Registration Fee (PARF) if a car is de-registered [15] before 10 years. The term "Additional Registration Fee (ARF)" is calculated from 110% of Open Market Value (OMV). If a car is less than 5 years old, then the PARF is 75% of the ARF.[16]

Open Market Value[edit]

The Open Market Value of a vehicle is determined by Singapore customs and is equivalent to the price of the car, including freight and other incidental charges.

Licence plates[edit]

Vehicle licence plates in Singapore are the same 520mm x 110mm size found in many European countries. Red licence plates indicate that the car may be driven only during off peak times unless a daily fee is paid. Off peak times are from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.[17] Since the end of January 2010, off peak car usage is no longer restricted on Saturday, Sunday and 5 public holiday eve.[18] Off peak licence plates costs less than the regular licence plates. Standard licence plates in Singapore are usually black with silver or white lettering or the newer white front/yellow rear plate combination.

Singapore as a car exporting nation[edit]

The result of the peculiarities of the Singapore car market has resulted in Singapore being the second largest exporter of used cars in the world after Japan.[citation needed] Approximately 100,000 cars are exported yearly. Cars are exported to many countries, including African countries. Used cars are often exported to other countries that have right-hand drive arrangements, but there are exports to left hand drive countries.[19] New Zealand allows the importation of used cars previously registered in Singapore without need for any modifications.[20]

Part of the reason for the high number of used car exports from Singapore is the reduction in the costs of the COE and PARF between 2000 and 2005. Previously, the COE and PARF might have represented 80% of the price of a medium priced car, such as a Honda Accord. With the COE and PARF less expensive that in the past, in some cases the yearly drop in the COE and PARF rebate begins to become significant compared to the pre-tax (OMV) price of a new car. Furthermore, with the PARF rebate starting to diminish after a car is five years old, the net amount of credit (similar to resale value or trade in value) compared to the OMV begins to become less favourable for the owner of an older car. In contrast, in countries with low taxes, such as a low VAT or low sales tax, the most economical ownership strategy is to keep a car as long as possible until the repair costs exceed the cost of depreciation of a new car or financing costs.[21]

Car market in Singapore[edit]

Alfa Romeo 159 display at the Alfa Romeo dealer in Singapore.

Car brands are typically sold by only one dealer although there are rare exceptions where two dealers sell the same brand. Several dealers have more than one location. Some dealers sell more than one brand, unlike the situation in some western European countries in the past where some manufacturers prohibited dealers from selling competing brands. Negotiation during car purchases is customary but limited due to the lack of competing dealers.

The limited size of the Singapore market results in some brands not offering the full model line in Singapore. Unlike in Australia, where the U.S. Honda Accord and the Japanese Honda Accord (re-badged as the Acura TSX in the United States) are sold, only the Japanese Honda Accord is sold in Singapore. Some brands, such as Saab and Volvo (except the Volvo S60R) are only offered with automatic transmission even though manual transmission cars are sold in the car's home market.

Although car prices are high, servicing costs are reasonable compared to in the United States and Western Europe from the standpoint of labour charges.

SUV (sport utility vehicles) and pickup trucks are not as common in Singapore as in the United States and Canada. So, pickup trucks in Singapore are relatively high priced compared to other South East Asian countries, and some dealerships do not import any pickup trucks, for example, Nissan Navara and Thai-built Ford Ranger.

Japanese car manufacturers have the largest market share. Some Japanese cars are imported from countries other than Japan. For example, the Toyota Vios is imported from Thailand, whereas the JDM version is called Toyota Belta. Initially the ninth generation Toyota Corolla sold in Singapore was a Japanese model, while the facelift version is a wider and longer Corolla Altis from Thailand.

Kei cars (like Mitsubishi i, Subaru R2 and Suzuki Carry) are common in Singapore, but not as popular as in Japanese domestic market as most Japanese car manufacturers seldom release Kei cars in Singapore. Beside this, there are some grey imports of Kei cars like Daihatsu Copen.

European car manufacturers are well represented. On the more expensive segment of the market, European cars sold in Singapore include Aston Martin, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Maserati, and others. Skoda, Fiat, Renault, Peugeot and Citroen are among the less expensive European cars sold in Singapore.

American cars have a low market share. Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles are sold in Singapore, such as the Chrysler 300C, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber and Jeep Wrangler. Chevrolet markets only Korean-made Daewoo cars, not its American made models. Ford markets some cars from its European line, not its American product line. On the other hand, some Japanese car maker, Subaru's subsidiary, Subaru of Indiana Automotive, has exported the U.S. built Tribeca to Singapore, but was not sold well.

Non-Japanese Asian car brands sold in Singapore include Perodua, Proton, Ssangyong, Hafei Motor, Chery, Geely, Kia, Hyundai, Chana and Holden Special Vehicles.

Used cars that are more than three years cannot be imported into Singapore.[8]

In 2005, there was significant local press coverage of the death of a car saleslady when a customer was involved in a collision during a test drive, reportedly after aggressive driving.[22] The driver's licence was suspended in April 2007 for this incident although the court case was still pending at the time of licence suspension.[23]

Seating etiquette in cars[edit]

In Singapore, seating etiquette is informal and not everyone follows the same guidelines. Typically, if there is only a motorist and one passenger that single passenger will sit beside the driver in the front of the car rather than on a rear seat so that the passenger does not appear to have a chauffeur.[citation needed]. However sometimes one will find a husband driving like a chauffeur while his wife sits in the rear holding an infant or young child. More affluent couples will both be in the front of the vehicle and their infant in a carrier on the rear seat or their young child will be on a child-seat positioned on the car's rear seat.

In Singapore, only right hand drive cars are allowed.[citation needed] There are exceptions for special purpose vehicles, diplomatic vehicles and foreign registered vehicles driven by visitors, with the label placed at the back windscreen of the vehicles indicating "Left Hand Drive" to alert other motorist that the driver's seat is on the left side instead of on the right side.

Fuel situation in Singapore[edit]

Major companies in the retail petrol market[edit]

Unlike in some countries where there is a significant sector of independent branded petrol dealers, petrol dealers in Singapore sell petrol under the brand name of multinational companies. Royal Dutch Shell, marketing petrol under the "Shell" brand, has the largest retail network of stations.[24] ExxonMobil has 23 Mobil stations and 19 Esso stations.[25] Caltex, formerly a joint venture between Chevron and Texaco, but now a subsidiary of Chevron, which acquired Texaco has stations in Singapore. Singapore Petroleum Company, marketing petrol under the "SPC" brand also has significant numbers of petrol stations in Singapore.

Four grades of petrol are commonly sold in Singapore. Diesel and unleaded petrol with octane levels of 92, 95 and 98 are widely sold. Octane levels conform with European octane ratings and roughly correspond to American octane levels of 87, 90, and 93, respectively. Shell also market a fifth brand of fuel under the V-Power label, in addition to 98 octane petrol. 98 octane V-Power is marketed as having an FMT additive and "formulated to improve performance and responsiveness" [26] and sells for approximately 15 cents per litre more than Shell's other 98 octane fuel [27]

Petrol stations frequently have loyalty schemes, such as Shell's Escape points.

The price of petrol is usually standardised such that the cost of a particular brand of fuel is the same regardless of which station sells it. Petrol is not rationed in Singapore.

Petrol is cheaper in Malaysia than in Singapore. However, regulations require that Singapore registered cars leaving Singapore have at least 3/4 of a tank of fuel.

Singapore as a net exporter of refined petrol[edit]

As a result of the high petrol refining capacity in Singapore, Singapore is a net exporter of refined petroleum. ExxonMobil's refineries in Jurong Island and Singapore has a 605,000 barrel capacity.[28] Shell's 500,000 barrels-per-day Bukom refinery exports 90% of its products to other countries.[24] The Singapore Refining Company has a 285,000 barrel capacity refinery which is a 50/50 venture between Chevron and SPC,[29] though part of the Chevron stake was previously owned by British Petroleum.[30] The United States, in contrast, has a shortage of oil refining capacity [31][32] resulting in about 10% [33] of petrol being imported as a refined product, as opposed to crude oil, some of it being imported from the Netherlands,[34] a country that does not have significant oil drilling.

Effects of the price of petrol in Singapore on the Australian market[edit]

The wholesale price of Mogas 95 unleaded petrol is the regional benchmark, including the benchmark price for Australia. This is a result of Singapore having a large refining capacity. In 2005, Australia imported 29% of its petrol and diesel needs, of which 80% came from Singapore. The retail price of Australian petrol is thus influenced by the wholesale price of petrol in Singapore.[35]

Foreign assessment of Singapore motoring[edit]

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) submitted a report to the World Bank citing the objective of government regulation of motoring as congestion reduction with positive side effects of revenue collection and pollution control. It stated that the ERP system was fair, convenient, reliable and effective at that goals were reached.[36]

An expatriate advice website states that "driving in Singapore and owning a car is very expensive." [37]

Wired, notes that "Singapore ... is a living laboratory for intelligent transport systems, a catch-all phrase for high tech strategies to gather data, manage flow, and inform drivers of congestion ahead. Traffic does indeed move noticeably smoother here than in American metropolitan areas of comparable size - Atlanta, for instance." [38]

Measures to reduce vehicle usage[edit]

Several steps have to be completed before a car-owner can drive a vehicle in Singapore. A Certificate of Entitlement (COE) is required, costing more than S$80,000 to successful bidders. This permits ownership of the vehicle for a period of 10 years after which the vehicle must be scrapped or another COE paid for allowing an additional 5 or 10 years of usage. Only 10 year COEs may be further renewed. 5 year COEs may not be renewed.

Certain roads and expressways in Singapore are subject to the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system.

COEs and the ERP system are intended to encourage people to use public transport such as the MRT instead of driving.


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  2. ^ "Driving In Singapore - Singapore Police Force". Archived from the original on 2007-06-07. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
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  29. ^ http://www.chevron.com/operations/docs/singapore.pdf
  30. ^ http://www.chevron.com/news/press/2004/2004-07-01.asp
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  32. ^ U.S. refiners stretch to meet demand - Oil & energy - MSNBC.com
  33. ^ United States Senator Richard Shelby : Press Room
  34. ^ WorldCity, Annual Report: No. 12 Netherlands - Exchange favors the U.S. |Connecting Local Business Leaders To The Global Economy
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  37. ^ Driving a car or motorcycle in Singapore
  38. ^ "Wired 9.11: The Ultimate Jam Session". Wired. 

External links[edit]