Hong Kong man mounts legal bid against policy exempting 1,000 old minibuses from needing seat belts

Application by Alan Tam Chi-fai accuses transport authority of ‘self-contradictory’ rules and ‘double standards’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 2:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 10:05pm

A Tai Kok Tsui resident has mounted a legal challenge to a policy that exempted more than 1,000 old minibuses from providing seat belts for their passengers, according to a court document.

In an application filed on Monday for a judicial review of the exemption, Alan Tam Chi-fai accused the transport authority of failing to learn from past incidents and of exposing 1.8 million passengers across the city to potential danger.

Tam, who was not represented by a lawyer, claimed that the current policy on seat-belt use on public light buses was “self-contradictory” and that the authority used “double standards”.

Fatal minibus accident in Hong Kong a tragic reminder of why we should always buckle up

“While the law mandates that all passengers buckle up, not every minibus is required to be fitted with seat belts,” his submission said.

Tam noted that more than 1,000 minibuses registered before August 1, 2004 were exempt from installing seat belts for passengers.

The claimant said the policy failed to guarantee every passenger’s safety and therefore violated Article 25 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law and Article 22 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.

Article 25 of the Basic Law states that “all Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law”, while Article 22 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance ensures equal protection of the law.

I have a belt ... I have a buckle: Hong Kong police ridiculed online for viral video spoof

Tam likened the policy in question to an old practice by ship inspectors who used to say that old vessels would follow old law and new vessels would follow new law.

The ship inspectors’ practice was revealed during an inquiry into the 2012 Lamma ferry collision. A total of 39 people were killed in the incident.

Tam asked the court to invalidate the exemption and extend the seat-belt rules to all 4,350 minibuses in Hong Kong.

The Secretary for Transport and Housing was named as a respondent in his claim.

Leung Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Public and Maxicab Light Bus Merchants’ United Association, rejected the claim that owners of older minibuses wanted to save money by choosing not to install belts.

“It is technically unfeasible to fix seat belts in old minibuses with incompatible chassis,” Leung said. “It won’t make passengers any safer if belts are put in the seats by brute force.”

But he added that most minibuses were equipped with seat belts and old vehicles without them would soon be decommissioned.