Police fight losing battle on bus seat belts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 June, 2005, 12:00am

Many passengers fail to buckle up and police say they can do little about it

Despite the law that passengers must buckle up when travelling on minibuses, many still shun seat belts for reasons of comfort, convenience or plain old laziness. And there is little that law-enforcement officers can doabout it.

Police have been checking on seat-belt use whenever they stop a minibus for traffic violations.

But by the time the officer boards the bus, the commuters have been warned by their drivers to fasten their belts quickly, said Lai Ming-hung, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Public Light Bus Owners and Drivers Association.

'Of course, there are always a few slow ones like the elderly who don't act quickly enough. Then the officer is left with a choice of ticketing the poor old woman or not.'

This last-minute compliance does not bother Chief Superintendent Blake Hancock, the head of the traffic police.

'I think for most people, if you're in a car and pulled over, you're trying to make sure you're abiding by all the regulations,' he said. 'It's human nature. So when a vehicle is pulled over, these passengers will probably [put on] their belts.

'Perhaps that is just as good from a prevention point of view ... I see that as a positive thing. I'm not encouraging that type of behaviour, but anything that persuades or encourages people to abide by the law and safety regulations cannot be a bad thing.'

Transport officials pushed for a law requiring passengers of public light buses to wear seat belts after seeing that these buses had the highest accident rate of all vehicle types. They predicted the law could reduce casualties by 20 per cent.

Since the law came into force last August, police have prosecuted six people for failing to wear seat belts. The maximum penalty for the violation is a $5,000 fine and three months' imprisonment.

But that has not stopped passengers leaving their belts unbuckled. Regular minibus riders said they did not wear the belts because they did not feel it would make their ride safer, and did not see others doing it. Further, they did not want the belt to stop them getting off the bus quickly.

'It is uncomfortable to wear seat belts,' said Monica Lam, a 52-year-old housewife from Tuen Mun. 'I'm not used to it and don't wear one even when I'm in a taxi. If there is an accident, I don't want the belt to get in my way of escaping.'

Seat belts have been installed in about a quarter of the city's minibuses - 1,092 out of 4,341. Transport officials predict all buses will have them within eight years.

The number of prosecutions is likely to rise as more buses install belts, but Mr Hancock said checking belts was not a top priority for traffic police. 'This is only one of a huge range of offences that we have to look at and prioritise,' he said.