First Road Courtesy Campaign

The Road Courtesy Campaign launched by then Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye on 10 September 1966 is the first national campaign to try and instil more awareness of road safety in all road users. It marked the start of a sustained effort in Singapore to bring down the number of road accidents and improve civility on the roads.1 In 1966 tiny Singapore had the unenviable reputation of having the third highest traffic death rate in Asia.2  Earlier ad hoc road safety initiatives in Singapore included a traffic game sponsored by Shell in May 1960 for schoolchildren to teach them road safety.3 At the same time, the Automobile Association ran a road safety campaign.4

More cars, more accidents, more deaths

The number of vehicles on Singapore roads had been increasing since 1960 reaching 191,600 by 1965. During this period, the number of serious road accidents also went up from about 5,800 to 9,400 cases as did fatal accidents which increased more than six-fold from 155 cases in 1960 to 255 in 1966.5 Singapore’s traffic death rate in 1966 was the third highest in Asia.6 With the number of motorised vehicles continuing to climb rapidly, it was anticipated that traffic accidents and deaths would also increase further if preventive measures were not taken.7 In response, the government decided to hold a Road Courtesy Campaign in September 1966.

The Road Courtesy Campaign
The National Safety First Council (NSFC) was entrusted with organising the campaign.This council was set up on 1 July 1966 by then Interior and Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee to coordinate national safety education, including safety on the roads, workplaces and at home.10 The council was not a government agency but a private body made up of individual volunteers and representatives from civic organisations.11 

In his opening speech delivered during the campaign launch, Toh urged road users to be more gracious and courteous towards one another.12 During the two-week long campaign, road safety messages were conveyed to the public through various means. A film on road safety, Ten Seconds to Live, was shown on television and movie theatres. The council’s then chairman, Milton Tan, reported that this film reached 250,000 viewers.13 As part of the campaign, a motorcade exhibiting wrecked cars and mangled dummies was driven around Singapore to raise awareness of the fatal consequences of car accidents.14 A teacher composed a Safety First jingle that was aired on radio,15 and newspapers ran articles with tips on safe driving.16 However, the accident rate did not decline during the campaign.17 On 10 September 1966, the first day of the campaign, there were 107 accidents, of which eight were serious and one fatal.18 Nonetheless, the campaign helped to increase public awareness of road safety.19 

Sustaining the road safety message
Following up on the September 1966 Road Courtesy Campaign, the NSFC organised numerous activities and programmes for the public to promote road safety. For example, it held a road safety campaign for pedestrians in November that same year, a safe driving campaign for taxi drivers in July 1967and the second Road Courtesy Campaign from 6 to 29 November 1967.20 The second road campaign included a road safety exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall and a road safety competition where courteous drivers were awarded certificates of commendation from the NSFC.21 The council also met with manufacturers and importers of crash helmets on 29 December 1967 to organise a Crash Helmet Campaign in May 1968.22 The campaign aimed to encourage motorcyclists to use crash helmets.23 

In the following decade, the NSFC continued to organise campaigns and activities aimed at promoting road safety.24 By the end of 1975, traffic accident rate showed a small improvement. Between 1966 and 1975, the number of accidents resulting in injuries and deaths dropped from about 9,400 to 8,800 cases despite the large increase in the number of motorised vehicles on Singapore roads.25 However, accidents resulting in deaths went up slightly from 255 to 286 cases.26 

Lim Tin Seng

1. “Motorists By the Motorist Dr. Toh,” Straits Times, 11 September 1966, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “174 Killed on S’pore Roads in Eight Months,” Straits Times, 10 September 1966, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “1,125 School Children in ‘Road Game,” Straits Times, 25 May 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “A. A. Plans Big Road Safety Campaign,” StraitsTimes, 11 May 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
5. National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 1966–1976 (Singapore: The National Safety First Council of Singapore, 1976), 60, 68–68. (Call no. RCLOS 614.80605957 NAT)
6. “1-in-100 May Die on S’pore Roads,” Straits Times, 30 March 1967, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
7. National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 2.
8. Ministry of Culture, “Road Courtesy Campaign,” press release, 26 May 1966. (National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19660526a)
9. “Motorists By the Motorist.”
10. “National Safety Council Being Set Up,” Straits Times, 20 June 1966, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “National Safety Council Being Set Up.”
12. “Motorists By the Motorist.”
13. “Two-Week Road Courtesy Drive a ‘Success’,” Straits Times, 27 September 1966, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Two-Week Road Courtesy Drive.”
15. “Annual ‘Safe Driving’ Contest for S’pore,” Straits Times, 15 September 1966, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Five Easy Steps to Greater Road Safety,” Straits Times, 19 September 1966, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Two-Week Road Courtesy Drive.”
18. “Road Safety Campaign Starts with 107 Accidents,” Straits Times, 12 September 1966, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Two-Week Road Courtesy Drive.”
20. National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 40–42, 56–58; “A Sharp Eye to Spot the Courteous Drivers...,” Straits Times, 11 September 1967, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Sharp Eye to Spot”; National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 40–42, 56–58.
22. “By 1971 Crash Helmets Will Be a Must,” Straits Times, 2 August 1969, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
23. National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 19.
24. National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 40–44, 56–58.
25. National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 68.
26. National Safety First Council of Singapore, 10th Anniversary Souvenir Magazine, 67.

The information in this article is valid as of 22 September 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.





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