LC Paper No. CB(1) 1049/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)
Bills Committee on
Members present :
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 1998
Minutes of meeting
held on Thursday, 21 January 1999, at 8:30 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP (Chairman)
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Members absent :
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon Bernard CHAN
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
Public officers attending :
Clerk in attendance :
- Mr Alex FONG
- Deputy Secretary for Transport
- Mr Roy TANG
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
- Mr S M LI
- Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Technical Services)
- Mr Alan LUI
- Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Management and Licensing)
- Mr Patrick LAI
- Chief Superintendent of Police
- Mr Lawrence PENG
- Senior Government Counsel
- Mr Sunny CHAN
- Senior Government Counsel
- Mr CHENG Hung-leung
- Chief Engineer, Transport Department
Staff in attendance :
- Mrs Vivian KAM,
- Chief Assistant Secretary (1)5
- Miss Connie FUNG,
- Assistant Legal Adviser 3
- Mr Andy LAU,
- Senior Assistant Secretary (1)6
I Meeting with the Administration
(LC Paper No. CB(1) 767/98-99(01) - Information paper provided by the Administration)
Amendments related to drink driving (Part II of the Bill)
The Deputy Secretary for Transport (DS for T) briefly highlighted the Administration's response to issues raised by members at the last meeting held on 4 January 1999 as set out in the information paper provided by the Administration.
2. In response to Mr Howard YOUNG on the lead time between drinking and driving, DS for T advised that whilst the alcohol content in a body decreased with time, the exact impact of alcohol on people varied depending on a wide range of factors including the type and amount of alcohol consumed and the physique of drivers, etc. As such, there was no exact means of ascertaining whether a driver had consumed alcohol in excess of the statutory limit without conducting a breath test. However, as a general guideline, the Administration had set out in the paper the type and amount of alcohol which could be consumed by a driver under the proposed 50 mg Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit. DS for T took note of Mr YOUNG's suggestion for providing breath analyser or similar devices at pubs.
3. In response to Mr Ronald ARCULLI for not introducing a BAC limit of 50 mg in the first place, DS for T advised that the proposed setting of a BAC limit at 80 mg was a reasonable starting point for Hong Kong in 1995 and was supported by the majority of Members of the former Legislative Council. The Administration had reviewed the effectiveness of the legislation after its implementation for a period of time, and found that drivers still had problems with separating drinking and driving. Having regard to the findings of overseas researches where the relationship between the tightening of BAC limit from 80 to 50 mg and a reduction in fatalities and accidents had been firmly established, the Administration considered it necessary to tighten the BAC limit to enhance road safety.
4. Dr LEONG Che-hung was of the view that the Administration should have introduced a BAC limit of 50 mg in the first place as any level higher than this would likely affect a driver's ability to identify risk. He objected to the proposal for introducing arrangements to enable motorists to assess the amount of alcohol consumed as the intent of drink driving legislation was to put across an essential message to the general public for separation of drinking and driving. He added that if a zero BAC limit was considered beneficial to the community, such a standard should be adopted bearing in mind that nine drivers were killed in accidents with BAC levels at 1 mg to 50 mg between 1996 and 1998. Dr LEONG quoted a number of articles from publications in the medical profession to support his view, and agreed to circulate the articles to members for reference at the Chairman's request.
5. DS for T advised that both 50 and 80 mg were internationally accepted standards and widely applied in overseas countries except Sweden which adopted a limit of 20 mg. The Administration, however, had no plans to propose a total ban of alcoholic consumption by drivers as this would be too drastic and deviate from internationally accepted standards.
6. Mr TAM Yiu-chung suggested that the Administration should launch publicity programmes aimed at putting across an essential message to the general public that drinking and driving should be separated so as to preserve the original intent of the legislation. He disagreed with the provision of breath analyser or similar devices at pubs as this would defeat the legislative intent.
|7. Members noted that all drivers involved in traffic accidents would be subject to screening tests. At the request of Mr Ronald ARCULLI, DS for T undertook to provide a breakdown of the statistics on breathalysed drivers between 1996 and 1998 in terms of age and sex, the time of the day at which screening tests were conducted, the percentage of cases of drunken drivers being at fault in the accidents, and the proportion of screening tests conducted as a result of traffic accidents.
8. Mr CHAN Kam-lam opined that it would help justify the tightening proposal if the Administration could provide medical and scientific evidence to illustrate the impacts of alcohol on people. While indicating support for tightening the prescribed limit to 50 mg, he agreed with the Administration that a total ban of alcoholic consumption by drivers would be too harsh.
9. Referring to Annex B to the paper, Mr LAU Kong-wah observed that there was no clear evidence that drink driving had become serious. Despite an increase in the number of breath tests from 9 945 in 1996 to 22 387 in 1998 (January to November), the proportion of drivers found to have consumed alcohol in excess of the statutory limit had reduced from 6.5% to 4%. Furthermore, the number of drivers found not to have consumed any alcohol had increased from 88.3% to 92.6%.
10. In reply, DS for T said that drink driving remained a serious problem. Of the 39 drivers killed in accidents involving drink driving between 1996 and October 1998, seven were found to have consumed alcohol with BAC level of between 50 and 80 mg. These statistics showed that the number of drivers killed with BAC level at 50 to 80 mg still constituted a significant proportion. The Chairman remarked that applying the same rationale, a tighter or even zero BAC limit could have been proposed. DS for T explained that the decision was not made on the basis of a single factor, but that other factors also had to be considered. The Administration had concluded that a 50 mg BAC limit was more appropriate than a total ban of alcoholic consumption as the latter would be too drastic for Hong Kong.
11. Mr LAU Kong-wah was dissatisfied with the reply. He was of the view that given that the problem of drink driving had not deteriorated, there were little justifications for the proposed tightening of BAC limit to 50 mg.
12. DS for T stressed that the Administration had adopted a preventive rather than remedial approach in the matter. Tightening the BAC limit would reinforce the message for drivers to be more careful about the amount of alcohol consumed, and this would help reduce accidents. He pointed out that a tightening of BAC limit from 80 to 50 mg in France had helped reduce fatalities in traffic accidents by 4% in 1995. Similar tightening had led to a reduction in fatal accidents in Belgium of 10% in 1995 and 11% in 1996, and a reduction in alcohol related accidents in Germany of 50% in 1998. Whilst total elimination of accidents might not be possible, the proposed tightening would contribute positively to a reduction in alcohol related accidents.
13. The Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Technical Services) (AC/TS) added that although the number of drivers found not to have consumed alcohol had increased, around 50% of drink driving suspects had consumed alcohol in excess of the statutory limit. It was expected that with a tighter BAC limit, drivers would be more inclined to keep a mental account of the number of drinks consumed and thereby stay within the limit. This would help to moderate their drinking behaviour and promote safe driving. The Chief Superintendent of Police (CS/P) added that drunken drivers posed serious threats to other road users including pedestrians and passengers. Between 1996 and 1998, 39 drivers killed were found to have consumed alcohol while during the same period, six non-drinking drivers, 19 passengers and 13 pedestrians were killed in accidents involving drink driving.
14. Mr James TO, on behalf of members of the Democratic Party, pointed out that a causation between drink driving and fatal accidents would be difficult to establish, and it was doubtful whether the proposal to tighten the BAC limit to 50 mg would result in substantial benefits. Even if the BAC limit were set at zero, there would still be fatal traffic accidents. Referring to the breakdown of alcohol concentration level of drivers killed in accidents involving drink driving in the past three years, he pointed out that the number of drivers killed with BAC level at 50 to 80 mg was less than those with BAC level at 1 to 50 mg. This clearly explained that there existed a very loose causal relationship between the occurrence of accidents and the alcohol concentration level of drivers. Given that a driver might be in contravention of the drink driving legislation for consuming only one can of beer, and having regard to the fact that accidents associated with drink driving had reduced significantly since enactment of the drink driving legislation in 1995, there were insufficient justifications for the Administration's proposal.
15. DS for T said in reply that the danger of drink driving was not only to drivers, but also to pedestrians and passengers. There was a need to strike a proper balance to safeguard the interests of different categories of road users. He said that Hong Kong was well served by public transport, and those who had exceeded the legally permissible limit would have no difficulty in finding alternative modes of transport. In view of the potential benefits of the tightening proposal to the community as a whole, its implementation was well justified. He added that a direct relationship between the tightening of BAC limit from 80 mg to 50 mg and the reduction of traffic accidents had been supported by overseas researches. Whilst total elimination of accidents might not be possible, the proposed tightening would contribute positively to a reduction in alcohol related accidents.
16. In reply to DS for T who asked for members' view on the appropriate time to tighten the BAC limit, Mr James TO pointed out that the Administration should keep in view the public sentiment and the relevant statistics in determining the appropriate course of action. Mr CHAN Kam-lam, however, was of the view that the Administration should formulate its own policy, having regard to all relevant factors rather than act in accordance with public sentiment. He supplemented that since an accident might be caused by a wide range of factors involving not only drink driving, the Administration should institute suitable measures pinpointing all possible factors to reduce the likelihood of accidents.
|17. On the enforcement actions taken by the Police in recent years, CS/P advised that whilst the number of accidents involving fatalities and serious injuries in 1998 were the lowest in the past 20 years, the Police was not satisfied with the situation and saw a need for stricter measures to further enhance road safety. Although drink driving alone was not the only cause of accidents, it would undoubtedly contribute to a higher likelihood of such occurrences. At the request of Mr Howard YOUNG, CS/P undertook to provide a breakdown of vehicle types involved in drink driving accidents between 1996 and 1998 which resulted in fatalities. He confirmed that no professional drivers were involved in these accidents.
18. Mr Ronald ARCULLI enquired about drink driving statistics in other countries as compared to Hong Kong. DS for T referred members to Annex A to LC Paper No. CB(1) 695/98-99(01) which set out the drink driving statistics in different countries including those in Asia. As regards Mr ARCULLI's enquiry on whether other African and South American countries imposed limits above that of 80 mg, he said that the Administration did not have such information in hand.
19. AC/TS clarified, in response to a member's question, that one out of every four drivers killed in accidents in 1997 had consumed alcohol before the accident, and 10% of drivers killed in traffic accidents in 1996 had consumed alcohol in excess of the statutory limit.
20. Noting that the BAC limits in Singapore and Australia were pitched at 80 and 50 mg respectively, and having regard to the fact that Singapore had a relatively low percentage of alcohol-related driver fatalities than Australia, the Chairman was of the view that the lower accident rate might be attributed to tighter enforcement and enhanced publicity and education, and might not have a direct relationship with the actual BAC limit. CS/P explained that each country had its own culture and geographical environment. In some places, driving was essential for mobility purpose and random testing had been instituted as part of the enforcement measures. However, random testing was not adopted in Hong Kong. DS for T added that Hong Kong had a relatively high percentage of alcohol-related driver fatalities than Singapore. Imposing a more stringent standard would deter potentially dangerous drink driving behaviour and be in line with international trend.
21. Mr CHAN Kam-lam pointed out that a direct comparison between the two countries would not be appropriate as traffic conditions varied from place to place. The statistics, therefore, only served to reflect the situation in particular places. He pointed out that enforcement in Singapore was rather stringent, and hence the proportion of drivers who died in traffic accidents involving drink driving was relatively small even though the BAC limit was pitched at 80 mg.
22. Mr LAU Kong-wah reiterated that the problem of drink driving was not deteriorating. Under such circumstances, there seemed to be inadequate justifications to tighten the BAC limit. He requested the Administration to provide the full text of the overseas researches referred to in the Administration's earlier written response to facilitate members' consideration of the issue.
23. As to the reason for the difference in the amount of beer/wine that could be consumed by a driver under the proposed 50 mg BAC limit stated in the paper and that given in previous papers, AC/TS clarified that the variation was due to the fact that more specific parameters were given in the paper for the current meeting including the alcoholic content and the actual volume of the glass used. DS for T advised that given the significant variability in both the alcoholic contents of different types of drinks and the drinking pattern, the Administration would need to further consider the best publicity arrangement.
24. In relation to the statistics on drink driving, Mr CHAN Kam-lam was of the view that since enactment of the drink driving legislation in 1995, there were signs of improvement in accidents involving drink driving. This might be attributed to the success of publicity of the drink driving legislation and the increasing awareness of motorists to separate drinking and driving.
|25. In response to Mr Ronald ARCULLI, DS for T undertook to provide an assessment of the transportation and parking costs which might be incurred by drivers who would prefer not to drive after drinking, and whether a new service could be provided for such vehicles to be driven to designated places at the drivers' request.
26. In concluding discussion, the Chairman suggested deferring voting on the matter pending further information to be provided by the Administration as requested by members.
Amendments related to private light buses (Part III of the Bill)
27. The Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Management and Licensing) (AC/ML) advised that at present, all public and private buses were under the control of the Passenger Service Licence Scheme (the PSL Scheme), which empowered the Commissioner for Transport (C for T) to introduce new terms and conditions to enhance safety of public and private bus operations. However, private light buses providing school transport services were not covered by the PSL Scheme. The Transport Department could only rely on the Road Traffic (Registration and Licensing) Regulations which allowed C for T to impose licensing conditions on individual motor vehicles as he saw fit. This controlling mechanism was not efficient as licensing conditions were attached to individual vehicles, and could only be changed when the licences expired and the owners applied for renewal. Hence, new safety measures could only be introduced to individual school private light buses as and when their licences were due for renewal. The proposed extension of the PSL Scheme to school private light buses would establish a more uniform controlling mechanism and bring it in line with other bus services regulated under the PSL Scheme.
28. In response to Mr LEE Kai-ming, AC/ML advised that the trade had been consulted and had raised no objection to the proposal.
29. Regarding the cost to the trade and payment of additional fees, AC/ML advised that the PSL fee was $396 per year and the PSL Certification fee for each vehicle $160 per year. With regard to the requirement for vehicle inspection, he confirmed that no change would be introduced under the PSL Scheme.
30. Mr CHAN Kam-lam queried the justification for the proposal. He said that implementation of the PSL Scheme should be aimed at promoting the safe operation of school private light buses. However, since the controlling mechanism governing the inspection of vehicles would remain unchanged, he questioned the need for the proposal and doubted if it was aimed at facilitating the collection of additional charges from school private light bus operators by the Administration.
31. AC/ML said that the proposal would include the category of school private light buses under the PSL Scheme where a uniform set of licensing conditions would apply. This would provide C for T with the flexibility in introducing changes to the licensing conditions for promoting the safe operation of school private light buses. Mr CHAN Kam-lam, however, was not convinced that there was sufficient justification for the proposal as under the existing regulatory regime, the Administration could also impose licensing conditions on individual motor vehicles as it saw fit.
32. DS for T explained that the proposal was purely technical in nature and did not involve any policy change. Any subsequent amendment to the terms or conditions of the licences would be subject to consultation through the normal machinery. AC/ML supplemented that currently, licensing conditions could only be amended as and when individual vehicle licences were renewed. The Administration could not introduce any new safety requirements until these licences were due for renewal. Under the PSL Scheme, licensing conditions could be amended by giving three months' notice to the PSL holders after consultation, and all vehicles under the same PSL would be subject to the amended conditions all in one go.
33. In response to the Chairman, AC/ML advised that some school private light bus operators had more than one vehicle registered under his name, and hence the proposed scheme could bring expediency and uniformity in implementing new or revised licensing conditions.
34. The Chairman said that an established mechanism already existed to facilitate the introduction of mandatory safety measures such as the provision of escort service and the installation of audible warning device on doors. As such, she could not see the need for the proposed amendments. At the request of the Chairman, the Administration undertook to provide additional information on:
- the pros and cons of the proposal to the trade and the Administration;
- whether there would be any difference between the existing and the proposed arrangements as far as licensing conditions and terms of insurance covering school private light buses were concerned; and
- whether privileges (such as stopping at restricted zones) granted to other types of vehicles under the PSL Scheme would be extended to school private light buses.
Amendments related to remuneration, etc. under management agreements (Part IV of the Bill)
35. AC/ML advised that the proposal was a simple, technical amendment. It provided that such portion of moneys raised or received under the parking meter or vehicle examination centre management agreement, which the operator was entitled to retain by way of remuneration or reimbursement, should not form part of the general revenue. He further explained that no change would be made to the existing mechanism in terms of the collection and retention of money raised or received by operators under the respective agreements.
|36. Mr Howard YOUNG enquired whether such portions of moneys related to air passenger departure tax collected by airlines on behalf of the Government should be subject to similar amendment. Noting that there might be management agreements which had been similarly signed, the Chairman asked for a complete list of management agreements (including those for management of tunnels) signed by the Government which were in similar situation as the two agreements identified where general revenue had been "retained" by private operators. DS for T said in reply that the Administration planned to introduce a bill later in the year to cover similar situation in respect of tunnel fees. Since these cases were not related to the Road Traffic Ordinance, they did not form part of the present proposal. Mr CHAN Kam-lam pointed out that the Administration should take prompt actions to rectify the anomaly.
37. In response to the Chairman, the Senior Government Counsel (Mr Lawrence PENG) advised that the proposed provision in this part of the Bill would not have retrospective effect. After the proposed provision had come into operation, the relevant agreements would have to be approved by the Financial Secretary (FS) for the purposes of the proposed provision. An operator would, pursuant to the terms of such approved agreement, retain his remuneration or reimbursement out of the moneys raised or received after the date of FS's approval for the purposes of the Government.
Date of next meeting
38. Members agreed to hold the next meeting on 4 February 1999 at 4:30 pm.
II Any other business
39. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:30 am.
Legislative Council Secretariat
6 September 1999