New drink-driving penalty too lenient, say lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2007, 12:00am

Two major political parties and a trade union federation yesterday questioned whether a proposal to suspend first-time drink-driving offenders' licences for three months is too lenient.

The issue arose during a Legislative Council transport panel meeting that discussed measures to improve road safety.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee, of the Liberal Party, asked whether a suspension of three months was too light when compared with two years for re-offenders.

She was backed by the panel's Democrat chairman, Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, and Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions.

But Deputy Secretary for Transport and Housing Annette Lee Lai-yee said the bureau had struck a good balance.

'Our standard of what constitutes drink-driving is already more stringent than other countries', plus we also propose to confer on police the power to carry out random breath tests. That should be a strong deterrent against drink-driving,' she said.

Police can only make a driver take a breath test if they have sufficient grounds to believe they have been drinking alcohol or have committed traffic offences.

But if the Legislative Council approves an amendment to the Road Traffic Ordinance, officers will be able to stop a vehicle or anyone attempting to drive, with reasonable suspicion.

Traffic Branch Chief Superintendent Blake Hancock said police had implemented six internal guidelines to ensure officers did not abuse their power.

Only about 900, or one-third of all traffic officers, who were experienced in the job would be allowed to perform random breath tests. Records would be kept for scrutiny.

'Normally we will not target moving vehicles, but we will conduct the tests when we set up roadblocks,' he said.

Mr Hancock said police would not limit the tests to certain areas, such as near bars and restaurants.

The proposals also include increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving from five years to 10 years and ordering those with 10 demerit points or more to attend a driver-improvement course.

They have been generally well received by lawmakers.

The bureau plans to submit the amendment bill to Legco by March.

At present, offenders do not have to attend a driver-improvement course unless ordered to do so by courts. But only 40 per cent of the 400 people who received such court orders in the two years to 2006 complied with the demand.

Under the new law, the fine for those failing to attend would be increased from HK$3,000 to HK$5,000.

The new law would also require novice drivers of vans and cars to display a 'P' plate, like their motorcycling counterparts.

Drivers under the 12-month probationary period would not be allowed to drive faster than 70km/h.