Mainland cars are no menace, crash data says
Locally registered, right-hand-drive cars were involved in five times as many accidents in Hong Kong as left-hand-drive cars from the mainland over the past five years, the transport minister said yesterday.
The data appears to rebut concerns that a pilot cross-border driving scheme would make roads less safe. In fact, the 2,000 mainland vehicles licensed to enter Hong Kong have not been as accident-prone as critics feared, said Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng.
Separately, statistics for last year showed that drivers of mainland cars committed more than 130 traffic offences - such as illegal parking, speeding and running red lights - though none resulted in injury, said a person close to the police force. That translates to about 75 breaches per 1,000 cars, a fraction of the violations by drivers of local vehicles.
Cheng told a Legislative Council meeting that there was no evidence that mainland left-hand-drive vehicles were more dangerous than local cars. She rejected arguments that cite safety and pollution as reasons to continue limits on mainland cars.
Cheng was responding to a call by lawmakers from the Civic and Democratic parties to halt a pilot scheme that would make it easier to obtain a licence to drive across the border.
The scheme would grant more one-off permits allowing private cars to travel between Hong Kong and Guangdong during the trial.
In Hong Kong, the average accident rate for mainland-registered vehicles was 3.24 per 1,000 over the past five years, compared with a rate of 15.9 per 1,000 local private cars over the same period, Cheng said.
She did not give an annual breakdown or reveal the number of accidents each year or the prosecutions arising from them, so it is not known if the number of accidents involving mainland cars varied significantly or whether all accidents were successfully prosecuted.
In the first phase of the pilot scheme, Hong Kong drivers can apply for a seven-day permit to drive in Guangdong from March 30.
'Once you launch the first phase of the scheme, you have no excuse not to allow mainland vehicles into Hong Kong,' Tanya Chan of the Civic Party said. She said that within an hour, the party had collected 2,000 signatures against the scheme. 'Is there any way at all that you would call the scheme off?'
Cheng said no date had yet been fixed for when mainland drivers would be granted licences to enter Hong Kong. She reiterated that the government would not launch the second phase without assessing its impact on road safety. 'Legco would be a crucial gatekeeper because we need to amend the law before we can launch the second phase, and we need lawmakers' approval,' she said.
Chan also feared that easing the rules for cross-border traffic would make it easier for pregnant mainlanders to 'gatecrash' emergency facilities at local hospitals. Cheng said vehicles in the scheme would not enjoy any advantage over existing cross-border vehicles; on the contrary, they would be monitored more closely because their drivers' details are recorded.
The daily quotas for Hong Kong and mainland vehicles would not be equal, she said, because Hong Kong's road network and traffic capacity were much smaller than the mainland's. At present, only 2,000 mainland vehicles have cross-border licences, and 24,000 in Hong Kong.
The daily maximum of Hong Kong-registered vehicles that will be allowed to travel to Guangdong next month