The Government's Response to Issues raised by
the Honourable Members at the First Bills Committee on
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 1998 on 4 January 1999

Issue 1

Whether there are overseas researches demonstrating the effectiveness of tightening the limit of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in reducing accidents and risk of being involved in a crash?

A direct relationship between the tightening of BAC limit from 80mg to 50mg and the reduction of traffic accidents has been supported by overseas researches.

According to the London based Institute of Alcohol Studies, reduction of BAC limit from 80mg to 50mg in France had helped reduce fatalities in traffic accidents by 4% in 1995. In Belgium, the tightening of BAC limit from 80mg to 50mg had led to a reduction in fatal accidents by 10% in 1995 and 11% in 1996. In Germany, a similar reduction in BAC limit had resulted in a 50% reduction in alcohol related accidents in Cologne in 1998.

According to a report published by the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1996, the risk of a crash increases as BAC of the driver rises. The report revealed that compared with drivers who have not consumed alcohol, the risk of fatal crash for drivers with BAC between 20mg and 40mg is estimated to be 1.4 times higher; for those with BAC between 50mg and 90mg, 11.1 times higher; for drivers between 100mg and 140mg, 48 times higher and for those with BAC at or above 150mg, 380 times higher.

The Australian Federal Office of Road Safety published a report in 1990 indicated that the risk of involving in a car crash at 50mg was twice higher than that of zero alcohol and at 80mg, 3.5 times higher. The same research also found that tightening of BAC limit from 80mg to 50mg had resulted in a 4% reduction in fatalities and 8% reduction in night time accidents in New South Wales and Queensland.

These researches vindicate the view that the tightening of BAC limit from 80mg to 50mg will lead to a reduction of fatalities and casualties.

Issue 2

Whether there is medical proof in respect of using 50mg limit for Blood Alcohol Content as a demarcation to differentiate between whether a person's judgment would be affected by alcohol?

The 50mg standard is supported by the World Medical Association and the European Commission. In 1995, when the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill introducing drink legislation was proposed, the Hong Kong Medical Association (HKMA) had issued a press release as at Annex A. The Association strongly supported the setting of the legal limit at 50mg/100ml. The Association also referred to research which indicates that " alcohol affects the central nervous system, blunting perception and co-ordination and impaired one's ability to detect risk. A 50mg/100ml concentration level will already begin to affect driver's ability to identify risk while 80mg/100ml is likely to impair significantly the driver's ability to drive. For preventive purpose, it is important that drivers who have been drinking be discouraged from getting behind the wheel at a time when they can still perceive the risk involved subjectively ".

Issue 3

What are the overseas experience in putting across the message of statutory limits for alcohol concentration to the general public?

In Australia, the Federal Office of Road Safety advises Australians not to consume more than two standard drinks in the first hour and one standard drink thereafter to stay below 50mg. Women are advised not to consume more than one standard drink each hour. A standard drink is defined as any alcoholic drink containing 10 grams of alcohol.

In UK, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents advises citizens that if they consume two and a half pint of beer after a normal meal, they will reach 80mg BAC fairly rapidly. The alcohol content of a pint of beer is not defined.

In US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests that 50mg BAC will be reached if a man has consumed 3 drinks and a women has consumed two drinks in one hour. A drink is defined as a shot glass of distilled spirit, one can of beer or one glass of wine containing 0.45 ounce of alcohol.

It can be seen that even overseas road safety authorities can only provide guidance in terms of broad rules of thumb to enable the public to assess the BAC level in their blood. Invariably these advices are accompanied by qualifications that the formulae provide only a rough guide as the actual BAC level in practice is affected by a wide range of factors including type of drinks consumed, food accompanying the drinks, weight, gender and rate of metabolism of the drivers.

Issue 4

Would the Government consider providing an indication of the type and amount of beer/wine that could be consumed by a driver under the proposed 50mg BAC limit?

We have reviewed our earlier advice with reference to advice given by other overseas road safety administrations. It is clear that given the huge variability in both the alcoholic contents of different types of drinks and the way people of different physique will be affected, it is only appropriate for the Government to provide broad rules of thumb as guidelines. If we want to be more specific, we can state the rule as one and a half can of beer (5% alcoholic content in a 350-370ml can) or two small glasses of wine (15% alcoholic content in a 100ml glass) in the first hour. However, as these guidelines are meant to be broad guidelines, we believe it may be even more misleading if we try to be too specific. We will further consider the matter before deciding on the best publicity arrangement.

Issue 5

What were the breakdown of alcoholic concentration level of drivers killed in accidents involving drink driving in the last three years?

Thirty-nine drivers were killed in accidents involving drink driving between 1996 and 1998 (January to October). Breakdown of the BAC level of the 39 deceased drives are as follows -

BAC Level
Year 1-50mg 50-80mg over 80mg Total
1996 4 0 9 13
1997 4 3 7 14
1998 1 4 7 12

9 7 23 39

These statistics show that the number of drivers killed with BAC level at 50-80mg constitutes a significant proportion of the total.

Issue 6

What were the number of cases involving drivers who failed to provide specimens upon request and rate of conviction of such persons since the enactment of the drink driving legislation?

Since the law was enacted in December 1995, 119 drivers refused to take the screening test. Most drivers refused to take the screening test because they knew they would be tested positively. The 119 drivers represented a very small fraction of the number of drivers asked to submit themselves to a screening test during the same period. Amongst those prosecuted, 68 were convicted, 6 were acquited and 37 were pending trial. See Annex B for more details of the screening test results.

Issue 7

What are the penalties imposed by overseas countries on breaching the statutory BAC limit?

A summary of the penalties on drink driving offence in overseas countries is at Annex C.

Issue 8

Whether a more scientific mechanism should be devised to differentiate levels of penalties and demerit points for drivers found to have consumed different volume of alcohol i.e. with different BAC level?

At present, the maximum penalty for drink driving are as follows -

  1. On conviction on indictment, a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and imprisonment for 3 years.

  2. On summary conviction on a first offence, a maximum fine of HK$10,000 and imprisonment for 6 months; and on a second or subsequent conviction within five years, a maximum fine of HK$10,000 and imprisonment for 12 months.

  3. Convicted driver will incur 10 driving-offence points for each offence.

  4. Drivers who commit second or subsequent offence within five years may be disqualified from driving for a period of not less than 2 years.

The present 10 demerit point for person convicted of drink driving for the first time is considered to be of suitable deterrence. In effect, the law will lead to the suspension of the licence for a minimum period of two years if a person is convicted twice of drink driving in a period of five years.

The existing penalties already allow the court to hand down a wide range of fines and jail terms taking into account the gravity of the offences. Specifying different levels of penalties for different BAC level in excess of the legal limit will limit the judge's discretion in handing down an appropriate level of sentence.

We do not support differential levels of penalties which vary with BAC levels as this may give the public the impression that BAC levels beyond the proposed legal limit have varying degree of acceptability. This approach may weaken the deterrent effect of the legal limit itself.

Issue 9

What are the reasons for some states in the United States of American to adopt a higher BAC limit despite the findings of the US National Institute - Alcohol, Abuse and Alcoholism?

In the US, 14 states have BAC limit at 80mg. There are no prescribed limit for 2 states. We do not have further information on why there are varying standards in different states. We believe each state takes her own decisions having regard to their own community needs and attitude towards drink driving.

Transport Bureau
January 1999