JOKES about Queen's Road being renamed Jiefanglu (or Liberation Road) after 1997, like most main streets in Chinese cities, are not new. So far, no one has seriously suggested that roads and streets in Hong Kong - named after the Crown and former governors - should adopt more politically appropriate names after the transfer of sovereignty. But even if such changes are to be made, loyal subjects of the Crown can rest assured that a long-standing British feature - driving on the left - will remain for a long time, because such a change is not as easy as changing street names. At a transport conference on Tuesday, the Secretary for Works James Blake categorically dismissed the suggestion for Hong Kong to change its traffic system to conform with China's drive-on-the-right rule. While he did not dwell on the details of such an undertaking were it to be made, one could easily visualise the enormous work involved in building new exits for every elevated highway, let alone the trouble of replacing all right-hand drive vehicles withleft-hand ones. Mr Blake's statement shows the Government's stance on the issue has not changed despite the passage of time and even closer links between Hong Kong and the mainland. In 1985, when the same suggestion was mooted by the then Urban Council chairman Mr Hilton Cheong-Leen, it was similarly dismissed by then secretary for transport, Mr Ian MacPherson, who described it as costly and unnecessary. Mr MacPherson's statement was echoed by the then executive director of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, Phil Taylor, who said such a change was also unnecessary on safety grounds because there were blind spots whether the driver was sitting on the left or right side of the vehicle. Much of what Mr MacPherson and Mr Taylor said then is still applicable, except that history has proved wrong Mr Taylor's prediction that he could see no great increase in traffic flow between Hong Kong and China. According to the chairman of the Container Transportation Employees General Union, Mr Tse Long, about 18,000 Hong Kong-based vehicles of all sorts, mainly trucks and lorries, are licensed to run on the mainland. Several hundred Chinese vehicles also have permits to come to Hong Kong. Everyday, about 20,000 trips are made. Mr Tse admitted his members had to pay extra care after crossing the border, particularly when they tried to overtake vehicles. Accidents had occurred when truck drivers, sitting with the steering wheel on the right, could not see oncoming traffic on theother side of the road as they tried to cut across lanes. While it would be nice if Hong Kong could change its ways to conform with the mainland's, Mr Tse said his association did not see this as a pressing concern. But casting an eye to the future, he felt that Hong Kong should perhaps have a 10-or 20-year plan to change to driving on the right because cross-border traffic was bound to increase greatly in the years to come. Separated by sea from continental Europe, Britain sees no need to change its road system to conform with the rest of Europe, which drives on the right. Stories abound of hair-raising incidents involving British drivers on the continent having to rely on their passengers to advise them of oncoming traffic when overtaking. Day in and day out, Hong Kong's hardworking long-haul drivers have to be vigilant on China's roads. They rarely have anyone to assist them. While Mr Tse has down played the safety issue, shouldn't we all be concerned that the risk of accidents will grow as cross-border traffic increases. Although the focus is on 1997, shouldn't we also think about 2047, when Hong Kong will become part of China in every sense of the word?