Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(1) 874/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/BC/7/98/2

Bills Committee on
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 1998

Minutes of meeting
held on Monday, 4 January 1999, at 10:45 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP (Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming, 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
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members absent :

Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon Bernard CHAN

Public officers attending :

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Transport

Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport

Mr Alan LUI
Assistant Commissioner for Transport

Mr CHENG Hung-leung
Chief Engineer, Transport Department

Mr Patrick LAI
Chief Superintendent of Police

Mr Lawrence PENG
Senior Government Counsel

Mr Sunny CHAN
Senior Government Counsel

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Vivian KAM
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)5

Staff in attendance :

Miss Connie FUNG
Assistant Legal Adviser 3

Mr Andy LAU
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)6

I Election of Chairman

Members agreed that Mrs Miriam LAU should preside over the election of Chairman. Mrs Miriam LAU invited nominations for the Chairman. Mrs Miriam LAU was nominated by Dr LEONG Che-hung and seconded by Mr LEE Kai-ming. Mrs LAU accepted the nomination.

2. There being no other nomination, Mrs Miriam LAU was declared Chairman of the Bills Committee.

II Meeting with the Administration

    - the Bill circulated under LC Paper No. CB(3)655/98-99 dated 18 November 1998

    - the Legislative Council Brief (Ref: TRAN 1/12/126) dated 12 November 1998 issued by the Transport Bureau

    - the Legal Service Division Report issued under LC Paper No. LS67/98-99 dated 1 December 1998

    - information paper issued by the Administration to the Transport Panel under LC Paper No. CB(1)695/98-99(01)

    - a submission dated 24 November 1998 from Mr Edgar CP KWAN issued under LC Paper No. CB(1)695/98-99(02)

    - correspondences between the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Administration issued under LC Paper No. CB(1)695/98-99(03)

3. Members noted that The Law Society of Hong Kong was examining the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 1998 (the Bill) and might put forward a written submission to the Bills Committee for consideration.

4. Members noted that the Administration had prepared a written reply to the position paper submitted by Mr Ir Edgar C P KWAN. The reply was tabled at the meeting and circulated to members after the meeting vide LC Paper No. CB(1) 713/98-99(01).

Amendments related to drink driving (Part II of the Bill)

5. Members agreed to examine the Bill part by part beginning with the part on drink driving. The Deputy Secretary for Transport (DS for T) explained that in order to tackle the problem of drink driving, there was a need to tighten the statutory limits for alcohol concentration permitted in drivers' blood, urine and breath, and to streamline the procedures for enforcing control on drink driving. These procedures included allowing nurses to take blood specimens, allowing refusal of providing blood specimen be made at a police station, and allowing breath specimen to be taken at designated centres. He said that the present Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit at 80 mg per 100 ml of blood was the higher of the two internationally accepted standards, the other limit being 50 mg. When the drink driving legislation was introduced in 1995, some Members of the former Legislative Council had suggested adopting 50 mg as the permissible limit although the general view was that this might be too drastic as a start. A subsequent review conducted by the Administration with reference to overseas researches had revealed that with a lower 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 proposed 50 mg limit was hence a stronger preventive measure than the 80 mg limit, and would be in line with the world-wide trend in lowering the alcohol limit. It could also help achieve a reduction in alcohol related accidents, fatalities and casualties. He stressed that the proposed legislative amendment was not intended to ban casual/social alcohol consumption. For those who wanted to drink, they could still make use of public transport services.

6. Dr LEONG Che-hung was strongly in support of the proposed tightening of the statutory limit. He said that when the drink driving legislation was introduced into the former Legislative Council, the medical profession and himself had suggested a BAC limit of 50 mg as any level higher than this would likely affect a driver's ability to identify risk. However, the Committee Stage amendments which he moved to this effect was negatived. Since the danger of drink driving was not only to drivers but also pedestrians and passengers, the drink driving legislation should aim at putting across an important message to the public that drink and drive should be separated. He agreed with the Administration that tightening control did not mean banning social alcohol consumption.

7. In response to Mr James TO's query for not introducing a BAC limit of 50 mg in the first place, DS for T explained that the proposed setting of a BAC limit at 80 mg was a reasonable starting point for Hong Kong. On the basis of information from overseas researches conducted over the years, the Administration considered it necessary to further tighten the BAC limit to improve road safety. According to a report published by the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1996, the risk of a crash would increase as the BAC of a driver rose. As compared with drivers who had not consumed alcohol, the risk of fatal crash for drivers with BAC between 20 mg and 40 mg was estimated to be 1.4 times higher; for those with BAC between 50 mg and 90 mg, 11.1 times higher; and for drivers between 100 mg and 140 mg, 48 times higher. The Chief Superintendent of Police (CS/P) added that recent developments in new towns had resulted in more expressways with high speed limits. Coupled with the corresponding increase in long haul journeys, there was a need to tighten the BAC limit with a view to reducing drink related accidents.

8. As to the reason for a limit of 50 mg instead of a total ban of alcoholic consumption, or the imposition of other BAC limits, DS for T advised that both 50 mg and 80 mg were internationally accepted standards and were widely applied in overseas countries except Sweden which adopted a limit of 20 mg. The question was whether it was the appropriate time to tighten the statutory BAC limit from 80 mg to 50 mg. The proposed tightening was intended to encourage people not to drive if they had consumed an amount of alcohol which exceeded the statutory limit, both for their own good and the protection of other law abiding road users. There was clear evidence to suggest that a tightening of the drink driving standard would lower the chances of occurrence of traffic accidents, and the proposed tightening would also be in line with international trend. DS for T emphasised that the Government 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.

9. Dr Raymond HO pointed out that the BAC limit of 80 mg was widely accepted in overseas countries such as Canada, Italy and UK, and that the number of drivers found to have consumed alcohol with BAC level between 50 mg and 80 mg was not high. As such, he queried the need to tighten the limit to 50 mg.

10. In reply, DS for T advised that a direct relationship between the tightening of BAC limit from 80 mg to 50 mg and the reduction of traffic accidents was supported by overseas researches. According to the London based Institute of Alcohol Studies, reduction of BAC limit from 80 mg to 50 mg in France had helped reduce fatalities in traffic accidents by 4% in 1995. In Belgium, the tightening of BAC limit from 80 mg to 50 mg 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 1998. The research undertaken by the Australian Federal Office of Road Safety in 1990 also found that tightening of BAC limit from 80 mg to 50 mg had resulted in a 4% reduction in fatalities and 8% reduction in night time accidents in New South Wales and Queensland. These researches vindicated the view that the tightening of BAC limit from 80 mg to 50 mg would lead to a reduction of fatalities and casualties. At the request of the Chairman, DS for T undertook to provide further information on overseas researches which would demonstrate the effectiveness of tightening the limit of BAC in reducing accidents and risk of being involved in a crash, and the reasons for some states in the United States of America to adopt a higher BAC limit despite the findings of the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Admin

11. DS for T supplemented that three out of every 10 drivers killed in traffic accidents in 1997 had consumed alcohol before the accidents. During the past two-and-a-half year, six non-drinking drivers, 19 passengers and 13 pedestrians were killed in accidents involving drinking and driving. Based on past statistics, if the BAC limit was tightened to 50 mg per 100 ml of blood, an extra 744 cases or 15% of the total drink driving suspects in the past three years would be caught.

12. Mr LAU Hon-chuen pointed out that drink driving was not the same as drunken driving. There was a need to strike a proper balance in determining the statutory BAC limit as the impact of alcohol on people varied depending on a wide range of factors including physique of drivers. Unless the Administration could provide further evidence to support the argument of a high correlation between alcoholic intake and accident rates, there appeared to be inadequate justifications for the proposed tightening, bearing in mind that 80 mg was widely used in overseas countries and an individual's lifestyle should not be unduly jeopardized in a free society.

13. DS for T said that Hong Kong had a relatively high percentage of alcohol-related driver fatalities than other Asian countries like Singapore and Japan. Overseas medical bodies and road safety authorities, such as the World Medical Association and the European Commission, strongly recommended a lower BAC limit of 50 mg. The World Medical Association also adopted the BAC limit of 50 mg as an international standard. Whilst it would not be practical to conduct control experiments in Hong Kong to test the correlation between alcohol intake and accident rate, the world-wide trend was towards tightening the BAC limit as one way of separating drinking and driving. According to Police statistics, the number of night time traffic accidents in Hong Kong had declined by about 5% in 1996 and about 2% in 1997.

14. As to whether the tightened standard would cause undue hardship to drivers, DS for T advised that this should not be the case. He reiterated that Hong Kong was well served by public transport, and those who had exceeded the legally permissible limit would have no difficulty in finding an alternative mode of transport. Given the potential benefits of the tightening proposal, its implementation was well justified.

15. Mr James TO expressed grave concern on the proposal. He said that in determining the right standard, there was a need to examine both the marginal costs and benefits of the proposal. Unless the Administration could prove that the marginal benefits of the proposal was obvious, he found it difficult to support the proposal. DS for T reiterated that three out of every 10 drivers killed in traffic accidents in 1997 had consumed alcohol, and that drunken drivers posed serious threats to pedestrians and passengers. A tightening of the prescribed alcohol concentration limits was called for to deter drink driving. Whilst total elimination of accidents might not be possible, the proposed tightening would contribute positively to a reduction in alcohol related accidents.

16. Notwithstanding the reply, Mr James TO considered that the change from 80 mg to 50 mg was only marginally beneficial as opposed to a BAC limit of zero the benefits of which would be obvious. Given that the Administration had not provided sufficient grounds to justify the proposed change, he asked for data which would link the tightening to lower accident rates, and the medical proof and scientific basis for impairment of a driver's ability to drive if the BAC level were pitched at a level above 50 mg. DS for T said that of the drivers found to have consumed alcohol during screening tests after traffic accidents, more than half were found to have exceeded the legal limit of 80 mg. If the limit were to be tightened to 50 mg, an additional 15% would have been caught. This would undoubtedly reduce the danger to other road users. He said that the purpose of the legislation was not to penalize this category of drivers but to put across an important message to them that driving and drinking should not be mixed. Admin

Penalties for drink driving offences

17. Mr Howard YOUNG pointed out that the amount of alcohol that could be consumed by a driver and the effects of alcohol on one's ability to detect risk would vary and was dependent on a wide range of factors. He asked if exemption could be granted to persons who could certify that a BAC limit between 50 mg and 80 mg would have no effect on their ability to identify risk. He also enquired if a two-tier penalty structure could be introduced to penalize drivers with different concentration levels. Dr LEONG Che-hung, however, did not support the granting of exemption to drivers as the effects of alcohol on drivers would vary from day to day, depending on a wide range of factors including the physique of drivers.

18. DS for T advised that the introduction of drink driving legislation was intended to put across an essential message to the public that drinking and driving should be separated. As such, the Administration had no intention to allow flexibility in the drink driving legislation as it would undermine the effectiveness of the legislation. Regarding the penalty for drink driving, he said that the existing penalties already allowed the court to impose a range of fines and jail terms taking into account the gravity of the offences. Specifying different levels of penalties for different BAC levels in excess of the legal limit might give the public the wrong impression that BAC levels beyond the proposed legal limit had varying degrees of acceptability. This approach might weaken the deterrent effect of the legal limit.

19. Dr Raymond HO considered that penalties imposed on drink driving offences were unreasonably light. Given that the actual BAC level was affected by a wide range of factors, and in the absence of a scientific method to enable the general public to test whether they had consumed alcohol in excess of the statutory limit, it would be more desirable to review the levels of penalties so as to restore their deterrent effect than to lower the statutory BAC limit. He suggested that a more scientific mechanism should be devised so that different levels of penalties and demerit points would apply to drivers with different BAC levels. He also enquired whether breath analyser or similar devices could be provided at pubs. In addition, he requested the Administration to provide further information on the penalties imposed by overseas countries for breaching the statutory BAC limit. Admin

20. DS for T said in reply that the fines imposed on drink driving ranged from $1,000 to $12,500 with an average of $4,000. On the cancellation of driving licence, he said that the suspension periods ranged from one to 48 months. Whilst the penalties on drink driving offences were matters for the court to decide, the Administration had reviewed the penalties applicable, having regard to other offences in the Road Traffic Ordinance and considered it unnecessary to raise the threshold. On conviction on indictment, for example, the maximum penalties were a fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for three years whereas on summary conviction on a first offence, the maximum penalties were a fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for six months. CS/P added that in deciding on the penalties for drink driving, the court would also take into account the seriousness of the consequence of drink driving and whether fatalities and casualties were involved.

Enforcement of drink driving legislation

21. On the enforcement procedures, CS/P advised that between 1996 and November 1998, the Police had carried out a total of 51 526 alcohol screening tests for drivers involved in traffic accidents. Of these, 46 679 drivers did not take any alcohol. Of the drivers who were found to have consumed alcohol, 2 632 had BAC levels above the current legal limit of 80 mg. The remaining 744 and 1 471 had BAC levels between 50 mg and 80 mg, and between 1 mg and 50 mg respectively.

22. CS/P added that out of the 2 632 drink driving suspects, 80% were subject to prosecution. Of the remaining 20%, the drink driving suspects were, in some cases, found not to have consumed alcohol above the statutory limit when further breath tests were conducted at police stations. Given that the alcohol content in a body decreased with time, the Administration considered it necessary to enhance the enforcement procedures to ensure that blood samples and breath specimen could be taken as early as possible.

23. Mr LAU Kong wah was concerned about the enforcement problems for drink driving legislation. Given that the alcohol content in a body decreased with time, a drink driving suspect would likely make every endeavour to delay breath tests. CS/P replied that the Police would exercise discretion to determine whether a request by a drink driving suspect was reasonable. If not, prosecution would be taken in which case the court would decide. Mr LAU asked for further information on the number of cases involving drivers who failed to provide specimens upon request, and the rate of conviction of such persons since the enactment of the drink driving legislation in 1995. Admin

24. On the breakdown of the BAC level of the 39 drivers killed in accidents involving drink driving between 1996 and 1998 (January to October), CS/P advised that around 60% of the drivers had consumed alcohol in excess of the statutory limit. He undertook to provide a breakdown in this regard. Admin

25. As to the type and amount of beer or wine that could be consumed by a driver under the proposed 50 mg BAC limit, the Chief Engineer of the Transport Department advised that the type and volume of alcohol that could be taken varied depending on a wide range of factors including sex, weight, age, etc. In order not to be misleading, only a broad guideline could be given. He undertook to provide further information in this regard. DS for T added that the Administration would take into account overseas experience in putting across the message of statutory limits for alcohol concentration to the general public before deciding on the best publicity arrangement. He would provide further information in this respect. Admin

26. Members agreed to schedule the next meeting on 21 January 1999 at 8:30 am.

III Any other business

27. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:45 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
1 March 1999