Hong Kong road racers mount costly legal challenges against use of hi-tech speed detectors

Senior police officer says those arrested sometimes spend thousands of dollars on lawyers to challenge use of speed detectors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 6:57am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 6:57am

Illegal road racers caught breaking the law are proving to be not just fast but furious by contesting fines for dangerous and reckless driving, forcing police to call in overseas experts to defend the use of hi-tech speed detectors.

Over the past three years, police have slammed the brakes on illegal street racing with the help of a new generation of speed radars and lasers.

But a new trend has seen drivers with a need for speed forking out thousands of dollars to fight charges, placing a greater burden of proof on police to defend the way evidence is collected.

"The technology is a double-edged weapon," a senior police officer told the Sunday Morning Post. Compared with 10 or 20 years ago, the new generation of sophisticated speed detectors makes it much easier to record evidence, the officer said.

But more advanced technical skills were needed to operate the equipment, giving defence lawyers a platform to question the evidence. "In the past, we didn't have that liability," the senior operational commander said, adding police were increasingly facing a more difficult challenge once a case goes to court. "We have to get experts from overseas to defend the evidence and to show that this piece of equipment is being used properly."

Police must carry out a number of technical tests on the speed detectors before they are deployed for operations.

"If one of the technical tests has not been carried out properly in any way, that will be subject to scrutiny and the burden of proof is much higher than before," the officer said. "Some people are now prepared to spend several hundred thousand dollars on barristers and lawyers to get an acquittal for a HK$420 fine."

Police are currently on high alert because in the weeks leading up to next month's Macau Grand Prix, more risk-takers take to the streets for illegal races. "We've got a war zone every Friday and Saturday night with all sorts of people trying to perform like Michael Schumacher," the officer said, referring to the German former F1 champion.

In 2010, 12 people were arrested for car racing. This jumped to 32 in both 2011 and 2012, in part due to a more proactive approach by traffic divisions. This year, six people have been arrested on such charges. The number of road racing complaints has dropped from 300 in 2010 to 143 so far this year.

There are a number of hotspots in the New Territories such as the Yuen Long and Tuen Mun highways and the narrow, steep Route Twisk, which links Tsuen Wan and Pat Heung, winding its way over Tai Mo Shan.

Other routes include the West Kowloon and Island East corridors. When it rains, the area around Tsing Yi attracts drivers who are into "drifting", in which they intentionally over-steer to lose traction in their rear wheels, causing the car to spin - a technique made popular by the Fast and Furious movies.

Illegal races are generally more impromptu now, the officer said, as most racers were aware that police monitored the various online forums where meets used to be organised.

"There will always be accidents," the officer said, listing the top three causes as speeding, careless lane-changing and inattentive driving. "But a lot more has gone into the road infrastructure and enforcement such as speed cameras, red light cameras. So we can now focus on the core business."