Drug-driving suspects may lose licence for a day for medical tests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 November, 2010, 12:00am

People suspected of driving under the influence of drugs could have their licences seized by police for 24 hours while undergoing tests, if proposed legislation is approved.

However, the proposal has not gone down well with professional drivers, who say the system could be open to abuse.

A review of the Road Traffic Ordinance has been urged to increase the penalties for drug-driving following a recent surge in the number of incidents - from 11 last year to 67 in the first 10 months of this year.

Under the proposal, suspected drivers would have to surrender their licences if they failed preliminary tests at the roadside and at a police station.

Lai Ming-hung, chairman of the Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group, which represents 5,000 professional drivers, said the proposal could have serious consequences.

'What if police officers abuse the drivers' rights or make mistakes in the tests? I object to this proposal unless the government offers compensation for any mistaken judgment,' he said, adding that minibus and taxi drivers would lose on average HK$500 if their licences were suspended for a day.

'They also have to pay rental for their vehicles, ranging from HK$300 to HK$600, even they are not working on that day,' he said. 'If a driver's licence is seized before he is actually charged, I don't think it conforms to the rule of law,' he said.

But legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo supported the proposal. 'We need to strike a balance between human rights and road safety. If the driver poses a potential threat to public safety, suspending his licence for 24 hours is acceptable,' he said.

A government spokesman said it had consulted the Department of Justice about suspending licences. Under the proposal, any suspected drug-driver would undergo a five-minute roadside assessment to test reactions. If drivers were found to have taken ketamine, cocaine, ice, heroin, ecstasy or cannabis, they would be charged immediately.

If suspected of having taken other drugs, the driver would be taken to the nearest police station for tests. Those who failed would be required to have a blood or urine test conducted by registered medical staff called to the station, and would have their licences suspended for 24 hours.

The proposed maximum penalty for drug-driving is a HK$25,000 fine, three years in jail and the licence suspended for two years.

On the rise

Drug-driving incidents have risen from 11 last year this number for the first 10 months of the year: 67