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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Law needs to catch up with technology

Touch-screen gadgets did not even exist when the traffic ordinance was amended in 2000 to outlaw the use of a mobile phone while driving. With more sophisticated devices now is use, changes to legislation are long overdue

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 8:04am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2018, 8:04am

Many people have become so addicted to mobile phones that they apparently cannot resist fiddling with them even when eating, walking or driving.

The latter is particularly dangerous. Some business-hungry drivers even go further and clutter their dashboards with multiple devices for taking orders. The need for better regulation is obvious.

We trust the government has felt the urgency after the number of tickets issued against the use of mobile phones while driving hit 2,370 in the first three months of this year, up 51 per cent from the same period last year.

With about 26 cases caught on average each day, the situation is hardly comforting. Many more drivers may have escaped police enforcement.

New public enemy No 1: people who use phone while driving

Touch-screen gadgets did not even exist when the traffic ordinance was amended in 2000 to outlaw the use of a mobile phone while driving.

It specifically prohibits motorists from using handheld mobile phones, or holding phones between the head and shoulder while their vehicles are in motion. The focus was to prompt drivers to use hands-free devices should they need to talk over the phone.

But mobile phones have since evolved into more sophisticated, multi-purpose devices, giving rise to a bigger grey area in law enforcement.

In a recent reply to a lawmaker’s concerns over drivers using mobile phones, the Transport and Housing Bureau said it was aware of the use of multiple devices on dashboards by drivers. Officials said drivers might have practical needs for using mobile phones, such as seeking GPS guidance.

As to whether restrictions would be introduced, the bureau said it was studying the impact of such restrictions and the enforcement details, adding that stakeholders would be consulted in due course.

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This is a step in the right direction, albeit long overdue. The previous government gave a similar reply as far back as 2014. Regrettably little progress has been made apparently.

Be it a traditional mobile phone or a modern touch-screen gadget, the spirit is the same. Safe driving is most important. Drivers must not be distracted by using such devices.

The law has to catch up with technology.