New rules offer timely boost to road safety

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am

A package of measures to make our roads safer takes effect on Monday. Drink-drivers and new motorists are being specifically targeted. The move comes in the wake of several tragic accidents that have sparked calls for tougher penalties for traffic rule offenders. As timely as the steps seem in light of the outcry, they are in fact coincidental - lawmakers approved them last year after much public discussion.

In a matter of days, police will be able to give random breathalyser tests for drink-driving and those convicted of the offence will automatically have their licence suspended for at least three months. All new drivers will have to put probationary licence plates on their vehicles, will be more stringently regulated in their road use and will face tougher penalties if they commit traffic violations. These are not direct responses to the deaths of two teenage girls in a car driven by a 19-year-old that crashed in Yuen Long last Wednesday. Nor are they a reaction to the killing of six people when their taxi collided at Lok Ma Chau on January 23 with a truck that police say was driven by a man well over the legal alcohol limit. The incidents sparked calls for the prompt introduction of tougher penalties. As tragic as they were, knee-jerk reactions must not shape laws; care must be taken with the process and that means time and public discussion.

That said, we should not have to wait for horrific traffic accidents to happen before we act. Hong Kong has been slow to take bad driving seriously. Random breath tests and P plates for new drivers have long been normal in other developed societies. We raised the maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death from five to 10 years last July; in some jurisdictions, authorities have increased it to 14 years or are considering doing so.

The new regulations are much needed. Like all laws, we need to see how they are working before reviewing them. But as much as there is a need for road rules and penalties for offenders, education and policing are as important. Vehicles in the wrong hands are dangerous weapons. Every effort has to be made to ensure that poor driving is punished - even if it does not lead to a bad accident.