Driver of lorry in crash that killed NUS law professor says he was distracted by GPS

The police were alerted to the accident involving a car, a bus, a lorry and a van at Upper Thomson Road on July 7, 2023. — Photo: Lianhe Zaobao/The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE: The driver of a lorry involved in a crash which claimed the life of Emeritus Professor Tan Yock Lin said he lost control of his vehicle when he took his eyes off the road to look at his GPS.

Natarajan Mohanraj, 26, had earlier informed the police officer at the crash site that the accident on Jul 7, 2023 happened after he fell asleep at the wheel.

The lorry he was in veered across three lanes before crashing into oncoming traffic, including a car driven by Emeritus Professor Tan, a senior law professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The professor was 70 at the time of his passing.

At the Coroner’s Inquiry on May 2, Natarajan said he changed his initial statement on Aug 30, 2023, to say he lost control of his vehicle while taking his eyes off the road to look at his GPS.

The Indian national said he told the police officer he was sleepy as he was in a state of panic after the accident.

“But my family advised me to tell the truth after the accident, and that is why I told the truth.”

“I did not fall asleep at any point while I was driving that day,” he said through a translator.

Natarajan told the court that he was travelling on the left most lane along Upper Thomson Road when his GPS signalled that he needed to make a right turn.

He was driving from Jalan Buroh in Pioneer to Ang Mo Kio to pick up a colleague.

Natarajan said he checked his mirrors for passing vehicles before switching from the third to first lane. He said he was constantly checking the GPS on his phone as he was unfamiliar with the area.

After he reached the first lane, he checked his GPS again. He told the court that at this point, he realised his right front tyre had mounted the divider.

He subsequently lost control of his vehicle.

Natarajan said he was travelling between 60kmh and 70kmh at the time.

He told the court he had only been driving for around eight months at the time, and that he was not usually required to be behind the wheel.

“I don’t normally drive as I’m a general construction worker. I am only asked to drive at times,” he said, adding that he depended on the GPS as he was unfamiliar with the roads in Singapore.

The court heard the police were alerted to the accident around 10am on Jul 7, 2023. The first police officer arrived at around 10.50am, by which time officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were already there.

Prof Tan was trapped in the driver’s seat of the car after the collision. SCDF officers helped to extricate him from the vehicle using hydraulic equipment.

He was brought to the hospital unconscious with large forehead lacerations, an open skull fracture and injuries to both thighs and ankles. He did not respond to resuscitation efforts.

Prof Tan’s nephew and sister-in-law were in court for the inquiry. The case will be heard again on May 10. – The Straits Times (Singapore)/Asia News Network

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