Talk back

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 May, 2006, 12:00am

Q Should all mobile phone use by drivers be banned?

I have a mixed reaction to your article 'Surge in drivers punished for handphone use' (May 4). The fact that more police are noticing the offence and taking action is encouraging. Perhaps they will also start to notice and prosecute, or warn, the many drivers who don't turn their lights on, even in poor visibility.

However, I am disappointed that 'motoring organisations ... want built-in phones made a standard requirement for all cars on Hong Kong roads'.

Using one hand to hold a phone while driving is certainly an unacceptable risk, but concentrating on the call rather than on the driving, even with a hands-free kit, is usually as, if not more, dangerous.

I concede there are drivers who use phones responsibly, but let us not encourage drivers to make all their business and social calls when driving.

The problem is that, typically, police operating a speed trap stop drivers for speeding and nothing else, those assigned to stopping vehicles for ID checks do that and nothing else, and officers travelling in a patrol van from one routine call to another don't see driving offences because they are not looking.

If they were, they would see far more than they could cope with. They might not always be in a position to penalise offenders but they could, at the very least in most cases, record a registration number and send a warning to the registered owner of the car. Even indicating to the offending driver that he has been spotted could have an effect. But, alas, it doesn't happen.

Peter Robertson, Sai Kung

On other matters...

We would like to thank and respond to Alex Tam's comments on our report on the decline of suicide prevention.

Certainly, promoting positive thinking in our society (May 2, Letters to the Editor) is one of the effective ways at the primary level to prevent suicide. It is important to induce a feeling of hope in the community.

However, secondary and tertiary-level prevention is also needed. For example, providing help and support for vulnerable groups, such as single parents, the unemployed and those suffering from chronic illnesses and depression.

These three levels of intervention form the public-health approach adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for suicide prevention.

The suggestion to monitor suicide attempts is indeed timely (May 4, Talkback). There is no comprehensive data collection on suicide attempts in Hong Kong, ie the number of people who attempted to commit suicide and were serious enough to need to be taken to hospital.

The classification of suicide attempts is also an area that needs to be improved. Based on our research, 1.7 per cent of the population aged 15 to 59 has attempted to take their life in the past 12 months. Our centre is working on improving the monitoring and surveillance of suicide attempts.

Comparing Hong Kong to the United States and Britain is relevant because both governments have implemented country-level suicide prevention strategies within their public health approach, as adopted by the WHO.

Last year, Britain had its lowest suicide rate, which can be put down to efforts to restrict the means of suicide, such as the sale of paracetamol.

Suicide data at the city level is not usually available. However, the suicide rate for some city states such as Singapore (10 per 100,000) is lower than that of Hong Kong.

Also, suicide rates for rural regions are usually higher than in urban areas.

Hong Kong still has to work hard to sustain the momentum and effort to prevent suicides. Certainly, the early detection of suspected suicide cases, as in the Cheung Chau community suicide prevention programme, would be useful in reducing the number of successful suicides.

It is encouraging to see that the suicide rate has fallen and we are also cautiously optimistic the rate for last year will not go up.

We expect the situation to improve further if services for suicide prevention are in place and awareness of the problem is raised within the community.

The media is one of the evidence-based suicide-prevention efforts suggested by the WHO. We have also witnessed an improvement in the local media's coverage and the Post has set a fine example.

Suicide prevention in Hong Kong should adopt a HELP approach: Holistic framework; Evidence-based; Long-lasting commitment; and Public participation. Community support for suicide prevention is indeed very important.

Paul Yip, Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, HKU

I recently moved into my new home in Tin Shui Wai and would like to thank Towngas staff for their efficient and considerate service.

I was able to buy appliances from their store and book their services even before filing an application for gas supply.

They have already visited my home several times and I have bought appliances from them, but so far I haven't had to pay a penny.

Towngas staff told me the company trusts its customers and would charge me when they received my application for gas.

The company has provided a safe reliable supply and a caring, professional and efficient service.

Alice Lee Chui Lin, Tin Shui Wai