Hot weather no risk to drivers, doctors say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2010, 12:00am

Two doctors yesterday rejected claims that a ban on idling engines could pose serious health risks to drivers in hot weather, saying there were many ways for them to cool down.

Taxi drivers have been pressing for more exemptions after the government proposed the ban, arguing that they and passengers may suffer heat stroke as the temperature inside a vehicle can exceed 40 degrees Celsius if the temperature outside is 32 degrees. Alfred Tam, a doctor from the Hong Kong Asthma Society invited to speak to lawmakers scrutinising the bill for the fourth time, said kitchen staff and construction workers who constantly work under hot weather had not experienced health problems.

'There are many combinations of factors leading to a heat stroke - spending a long time under hot weather, doing sports, not drinking enough water or not being fit enough ... A person, however, should be able to cope with a brief period of high temperature, and they can drink more water,' he said.

Yu Chak-man, a paediatrician attending the same meeting, agreed. 'Is it really going to be a long working hours under hot weather? We are just talking about the period when the engine is off,' he said. 'There was a time when buses had no air-conditioning. Did anyone get heat stroke?'

Mike Kilburn, an environmental programme manager at think tank Civic Exchange, said drivers should worry more about their exposure to polluted air than their comfort.

The government exempts the first five taxis in a queue from switching off their engines but the trade hopes the entire queue can be exempted. Meanwhile, operators of coaches and shuttle buses have demanded exemption on very hot days.

Nigel Lam, the chief executive of Electric Transport Systems, said his company could offer technology that would make all exemptions unnecessary. The company has devices that allow a vehicle's air-conditioning to function for 10 to 20 minutes after the engine is turned off.