By Joy Fang
If you knock down a dog while steering a motor vehicle, you might have committed a crime should you not stop and help the injured animal.
The Road Traffic Act adds that failure to do likewise for knocking down cattle, a horse, ass, mule, sheep, pig or goat could be a crime too, with a $3,000 fine or a jail term of up to a year.
The same cannot be said for a cat, rabbit, monkey, bird or snake. The law is silent on running over other animals.
There were cases of runaway horses on the road in 1991 and 1983.
These legal issues came to light after national bowler Remy Ong allegedly ran over a dog on Sunday in a hit-and-run accident.
Criminal lawyer Chia Boon Teck told my paper yesterday that the traffic law may have been from the "olden days", when roaming farm animals were a more common sight. So, the law may not be as applicable today.
Litigation lawyer Jispal Singh added that Singapore's legal system is based on Britain's. In Britain, domesticated farm animals can be found on country roads.
When the laws were drafted in the 19th century, the animals listed had "farm value", either as working animals or for meat, unlike other animals, such as cats and rabbits, which were historically seen as wild animals, he noted.
Both lawyers said they have not seen anyone penalised for animal hit-and-run cases so far, which Mr Chia added could be due to animal-abuse issues entering the spotlight only about a year ago.
This is because various animal lobby groups are now more vocal and society has become more aware of such anti-social behaviour, he explained.
Still, while it is rare for a motorist to be prosecuted for running down an animal, leaving the scene meant that he is at fault under the law, said lawyers.
Animal-welfare groups said that hit- and-run cases where animals are left injured or dead are very common. For instance, Action for Singapore Dogs sees five to six cases involving dogs that had been run over in a month. And, for every 10 dogs it rescues, 50 to 60 per cent of them were victims of hit-and-run accidents.
Animal shelter Animal Lovers League said that it has seen eight or nine animal hit-and-run cases in the past two to three years. Its founder, Ms Cathy Strong, said "it is just wrong" that the law does not include other animals because "all life should be valued".
The two shelters were part of the National Geographic Channel Free Pet Shop drive last weekend, which drew 8,500 people.
A spokesman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said any injured or distressed animal should be helped, "regardless of what animal was stated in the law".
Motorists should slow down when circumstances permit, stop the vehicle and check on the animal, she said, adding that the driver can take the injured animal to the nearest vet or call the SPCA.
In Ong's case, she said that the SPCA has obtained a statement from him but could not share details as it may jeopardise Traffic Police investigations.
As this is a hit-and-run case, the police will be handling the matter, but "we have voiced SPCA's concerns strongly to them", she added.
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