Learners get in gear for city traffic
Learning to drive in Hong Kong requires overcoming a set of challenges that are different from those in other cities - the biggest tests are notorious rush-hour traffic and getting used to driving around the narrow streets.
The driving test here reflects the difficult conditions, with most students needing about 30 hours of driving lessons to pass. Unlike in many Western countries, learner drivers can only drive if accompanied by a holder of a driving instructor's licence, so they must learn at a driving school or with a private instructor.
But even with an instructor in the seat beside them, first-time drivers can find taking to the roads a daunting prospect.
'There is a high risk if learners with zero experience practise on public roads,' says a spokeswoman from the Hong Kong School of Motoring [HKSM] (www.hksm.com.hk). 'It creates a hazard for both them and other road users.'
It was with this in mind that the government set up the school 27 years ago, providing learners with a safe, confined environment to practise before heading out onto the streets.
The school is one of a number of government-designated driving schools in Hong Kong, with four having their own confined areas for learners to start off in. There are also private schools and private instructors who offer classes, with one of the biggest private schools being Lee Kin Driving School (www.leekin.com.hk).
Whichever school a learner chooses, they will have to pass a computerised written test, an intermediate driving test and a road test, before being issued with a licence. The computerised test consists of 20 multiple-choice questions, with a required pass rate of 16. 'The intermediate test involves reversing and parking exercises, starting and stopping on a slope and other specified manoeuvres,' the spokeswoman says. The final road test consists of demonstrating an ability to respond to other road users, proper use of gears and proper judgment of timing, speed and car distances, and driving appropriately to match traffic and road conditions.
Once all parts of the test have been passed, the driver is issued with a probationary licence which entitles them to drive for 12 months as long as they display a 'P plate' and stay below 70km/h. If they keep a clean driving record, they can then apply for a full licence. 'It normally takes 25 to 30 practical training hours before someone can take the test, but the learning progress of each student can vary,' the spokeswoman says.
According to Transport Department statistics, 70 per cent of HKSM learners pass the test on the first attempt. Lee Kin Driving School has about the same pass rate, but some other private schools have a substantially lower number of students passing on the first attempt.
Entry-level packages, which should be enough to get students up to a level where they are confident to take the test, cost in the region of HK$4,500. Drivers must be over 18. The fee for the exam is HK$510, and all learners must get a learner's licence from the Transport Department, costing HK$548.