A victory for the public over drivers' self-interest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2005, 12:00am

Drivers who jump red lights are likely to face tougher penalties soon - and not before time. Tomorrow's vote in the Legislative Council has already been delayed for months in the face of opposition from professional drivers' groups, which some legislators have strongly supported.

It seems that lawmakers will finally put the public interest first. For the past three years, drivers running red lights have been involved in roughly one accident per day. Among them was an horrific collision between two minibuses in North Point in October in which two people were killed and 18 injured.

The proposals before Legco tomorrow are to increase the punishment for red-light jumping from three demerit points and a $450 fine to five points and $600 - hardly harsh rises given that the present penalties are not working. Fifteen demerit points within two years - or three such violations - would lead to licence suspension.

A university poll has shown strong support for the changes. A stiffer fine would seem acceptable, given that it would still be less than half the $1,500 fine for the less dangerous offence of littering.

Professional drivers' groups have tried to stall the increase by pleading undue stress, and with demands that the government change all traffic lights so that flashing green warns drivers of an imminent change to red. Miriam Lau Kin-yee, Liberal Party legislator representing the transport constituency, has championed their cause. This all smacks of putting self-interest ahead of the public interest - and rather contemptible self-interest at that. Thankfully, the increase in penalties does not look as if it will be delayed any longer.

Ms Lau agrees that drivers who jump red lights should be prosecuted, but says she will vote against the proposals tomorrow because of grey areas in the implementation, and there are threats of protests from professional drivers' groups.

She says the drivers are not opposed to increasing the penalty for running red lights but that they oppose it for cases that are not dangerous - like running yellow lights and crossing the white stop line.

That sounds like a recipe for making it hard for police to make infringement notices stick. There is more merit in her suggestion that more red-light cameras should be used to catch offenders and that hanging traffic lights should be installed to make them more visible. Other measures suggested by transport officials include installing speed monitors on all 4,300 minibuses. But experience with similar devices on 500 green minibuses shows that many drivers simply ignore them or switch them off.

The fact remains that in Hong Kong, as everywhere else, red means stop. Too many local drivers treat red like green and, sadly, prominent among them are professional drivers. The expected stiffening of penalties is a much-needed step towards curbing this menace.