E-bike deaths: Trailer driver likely 'drifted off to sleep' - State Coroner

Nigel Chin
File photo of e-bike: AFP

The deaths of two power-assisted bicycle (PAB) riders in an accident on West Coast highway last October were likely caused by the trailer driver dozing off behind the wheel, the Coroner’s Court concluded on Friday (20 October).

State Coroner (SC) Marvin Bay gave his findings after a two-day Coroner’s Inquiry into the deaths of Ang Yee Fong, 26, and Ong Zi Quan, 19.

A trailer driven by Sahadevan Senguttuvan, a 34-year-old Indian national, plowed into Ong and Ang from the rear at 11.56pm on 27 October 2016. Ang was pronounced dead at the scene at 12.24am, while Ong died of his injuries at the National University Hospital at 1.05am.

Ong and Ang had been riding in a straight line along the left-most lane of West Coast highway towards Telok Blangah Road with 17-year-old PAB rider Marcus Loke Teck Soon, who survived the accident.

During the CI on Thursday, Senguttuvan claimed that he spotted the riders stationary on the left, and veered towards the right to avoid them. But the riders moved to the right just as he did, said Senguttuvan, who had been driving the same vehicle for two and a half months.

His account was refuted by video footage shown in court, which captured the accident. The footage showed that the riders were riding in a straight line on the left most lane, when the trailer collided into them from behind. At the CI, Ong’s mother had accused Senguttuvan of “pushing away responsibility”.

Evidence given by Loke and an independent eyewitness were also “far more congruent” with the footage, SC Bay said on Friday.

He added that the “most likely scenario was that Senguttuvan completely failed to notice the riders” and that the failure resulted in the collision. He also called Senguttuvan’s account of the accident “highly dubious” and “very likely to be untrue”.

The only explanation is “gross inattention”, which could have been due to Senguttuvan drifting into sleep as a result of his long hours at work prior to the accident. Senguttuvan had been working for almost the entire day from 7.20am in the morning, until near midnight of that ride, which likely affected his alertness, SC Bay said.

Senguttuvan had only taken short meal breaks of 15-30 minutes, and claimed to have had one hour rest in the evening, and then worked until the time of his “fateful final trip”, SC Bay said.

“Given his failure to react at all until his impact with Mr Ang and his continued inability to take any effective evasive action or brake, it seems entirely possible that Mr Sahadevan had actually drifted off to sleep while driving on a straight stretch of road.

“The monotonous nature of his activity of prolonged driving, and his expected fatigue may well have taken a toll on his alertness and eventually, his ability to maintain a wakeful state.”

SC Bay also said that the possibility that Senguttuvan had drifted off to sleep may explain his inability to “give any coherent account of what happened”.

It was also unlikely that visibility of the PABs, which were painted black or in dark colours, played a significant part in the accident because the roads were “not especially dim or poor lighted”, as shown by the CCTV footage.

SC Bay ruled out foul play, and called the deaths of Ong and Ang “truly tragic traffic misadventures”.