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In response to all the articles that have been criminalising owners with vehicle modifications, our friend Brendan from 9tro Magazine has written an open letter with a very sound argument about modifications. Hopefully it will reach the correct people to put in place a positive change with regards to modifications!

Link to note here.

Dear LTA,

I respond to the article mentioned below:

 

ARTICLE HERE: http://www.todayonline.com/Singapore/EDC120823-0000034/A-need-for-harsher-penalties

If I read correctly, then the LTA’s Transport Consultant Tham Chen Munn argues that illegally-modified cars “endanger lives” because they are used “beyond (their) normal operating intention”, and therefore there is a need for harsher penalties to be given to owners of these cars. Let me expand the premises of his argument further, and point out the gaping logical holes in this man’s thesis.

There are three logical steps within the clauses that make up Mr. Tham’s argument for harsher penalties; they are:

1) If a car is illegally-modified, it is assumed to be used “beyond normal operating intention” and

2) If these cars are illegally-modified and assumed to be used “beyond normal operating intention”, they are assumed to be “endangering lives”.

Finally, Mr. Tham includes liability (i.e. intention) on the part of the owners of these cars. His argument in totality is therefore:

If these cars are illegally-modified and assumed to be used “beyond normal operating intention”, they are assumed to be “endangering lives”. Drivers that own such “illegally-modified” wholly intend to do all of the above, and therefore the drivers of these cars must be presecuted with harsher punishments.

To understand why Mr. Tham’s argument is fallacious, it is extremely important that we must first draw the context of the “legal” and “illegal” aftermarket modification scene in Singapore.

For those of you whom are unaware, workshops in Singapore can pay the LTA a sum of money to get aftermarket JASMA- or TUV-approved parts “approved” as “legal” performance upgrades, with matching registration and prior sound tests performed to ensure that these parts aren’t too noisy. There are, however, no such checks and balances in terms of power upgrades, so as long as your car has “legal” aftermarket parts, you could make 1,000bhp in your little Vios and it would be legal.

These performance upgrades include more freely-flowing aftermarket exhaust systems, turbocharger upgrades, ECU retunes and the like. Therefore, an “illegal” upgrade simply refers to parts that have not been “approved” by the LTA; your unapproved aftermarket exhaust could be softer than a “legal” exhaust, but it would still be considered “illegal”, and you’d still get a $500 (or more) fine in the mail if you get caught.

With this context drawn, Mr. Tham’s argument has no basis. This is how:

1. If a car is “illegally-modified”, it is assumed to be used beyond its normal intention; however, a “legally-modified” car is assumed FALLACIOUSLY to still be used within its normal intentions, DESPITE THE FACT THAT BOTH CASES CAN INVOLVE INSTALLING AFTERMARKET PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING PARTS ON CARS.

Here, some real examples of how this absurd differentiation between “legal” and “illegal” modifications bring about the fallacious conclusion that illegally-modified cars are used “beyond normal operating intentions”:

One can have a J’s Racing 60mm exhaust system for the Honda S2000 in Titanium approved for use and therefore legal, but the SAME J’s Racing exhaust system, used in the SAME application in an S2000, in the SAME 60mm diameter made of Stainless Steel is not approved, and therefore deemed illegal.

The horsepower gain and noise level increase both cases is almost the same; yet, simply because one item is approved while the other is not, the Titanium system is running within “normal operating intentions” and the Stainless-steel item is “illegal” and therefore beyond normal operating intentions. 

In a similar case:

The owner of the latest Audi can have the brightest HID headlights and LED daytime running lights installed on the car, running within “normal operating intentions”, simply because these items are factory-installed; yet, aftermarket lighting items exhibiting similar voltage and light outputs as factory items are deemed “illegal”, simply because they did not come standard with the car.

Even if there is a justified need for upgrading the lights on one’s old car to something equivalent to a modern standard (safety for bikes and pedestrians, better vision at night), it is deemed wholly “beyond normal operating intentions” simply because it is not standard equipment.

When one considers the examples stated above, it is easy to see that “legal” and “illegal” modifications here are distinguished NOT based on measurable and quantifiable fields such as decibel ratings, horsepower increases or voltage and light outputs, but merely via a piece of paper workshops used some money to attain.

Therefore, Mr. Tham cannot conclude that “illegally-modified” cars are used “beyond normal operating intentions”, since legal and approved modifications can offer the same “beyond normal” operational parameters quite easily. Until the two can be concretely distinguished, there is no basis for Mr. Tham’s argument.

In fact, by imposing harsher penalties, and even going so far as to fine workshops that deal with such “illegal” parts, the LTA is simply killing the already shrinking aftermarket industry here – and the many jobs, careers and livelihoods it provides.

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2. The second fallacy occurs when Mr. Tham states that cars operating “beyond normal operating intention” are assumed to be “endangering lives”. Let’s assume for now that the first assertion is true – that illegally-modified cars are “beyond normal operating intention”.

Even if that were the case, Mr. Tham’s second assertion that they are therefore “endangering lives” is a hasty generalisation: Just because a car is modified illegally, does not make it 100% more life-threatening. Roll-cages of any sort are deemed an illegal modification, even though they add to structural rigidity and therefore safety to the occupants in the event of a roll-over.

Furthermore, the half roll-cage found as standard equipment on a Porsche 911 GT3RS, BMW M3 GTS and Renault Megane R26R are all considered legal since they came from the factory – more evidence of the double standards applied to the terms “legal and “illegal” here.

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3. Most importantly, however, here we must also acknowledge the third and most implicit assertion Mr. Tham is trying to make – the clause that seeks to address the liability of the driver’s intention behind applying illegal modifications.

Basically, he is trying to say that when every owner that modifies his or her car illegally, or “beyond normal operating intention”, he or she has complete wilful intention to race the car on the streets and endanger lives. He or she must therefore face harsher penalties for applying these modifications.

Here, the fallacy is that correlation does not mean causation. Yes, we are related to the problem of endangering lives, but we do not cause them wholly. We cannot deny that SOME car enthusiasts who illegally modify their car go street racing – yes, some of us are guilty of engaging in a little speedy thrill from time to time on a deserted road, and some of us can confess to endangering lives as well.

This does not mean, however, that all who modify cars illegally are manic rubber-burning street racers that drive recklessly and endanger lives – so why harsher punishments for all? Following the same logic, should all of us be punished for murder just because some of us have murdered?

Would it not be more fair to everyone if the people that get caught for street racing receive the harshest penalties, while the rest of us that carry customised modifications on our cars, but keep our crazy antics to the racetrack, be left alone? 

Mr. Tham should re-think his assertions and arguments after considering the evidence above. In summary:

1. “Legal” modifications and “illegal” modifications do not have measurable and quantifiable distinctions – therefore, the assertion that illegally-modified cars are assumed to be used “beyond normal operating intention” cannot stand, since “legal” modifications offer similar “beyond normal” operating parameters. 

2. Cars functioning “beyond normal operating intentions” may not necessarily be “endangering-lives”. Many illegal aftermarket upgrades serve to make the car safe, too.

3. Not all of us that illegally modify our cars are street racers – so why should all of us be punished for what a minority are responsible for (i.e. endangering lives)? Punish those that deserve punishment harshly – but leave the rest of us alone.

Yours Sincerely,

Brendan Mok.