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

The loss of five lives – including a baby girl and her grandmother – once again highlights the need for all to adhere strictly to seat-belt law

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 December, 2015, 1:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 December, 2015, 1:20am

With some 15,000 traffic accidents recorded each year in Hong Kong, the importance of road safety cannot be overstated. That it has taken another tragedy to ring the alarm bell is regrettable. Five precious lives, including that of a three-month-old baby girl and her grandmother, were lost in a horrific collision last Friday, when a green minibus was hit by a truck at an intersection in Yuen Long. One of the five other passengers in hospital – the baby’s aunt who is also a member of the Hong Kong’s women’s soccer team – is still in critical condition.

The 70-year-old truck driver appeared in court on Monday charged with one count of dangerous driving causing death.

The circumstances leading to the fatal accident will become clearer when the case goes before the court again in February. But one issue already stands out: some passengers were hurled out of the vehicle and found dead outside the wreckage, suggesting that they might not have followed the law to fasten seat belts.

It has been asked whether the use of seat belts could have made a difference in such a serious crash. When the law was introduced in 2004 , officials estimated that casualties involving minibus accidents could be reduced by up to 20 per cent. In Friday’s collision, some front-seat passengers with seat belts on reportedly escaped with less severe injuries.

It’s a shame that many passengers still shun seat belts for reasons of comfort or convenience, despite facing a fine of HK$5,000 and three months in jail. This is not helped by slack police enforcement. From 2011 to last year, there were fewer than 5,500 prosecutions. Currently, two in five minibuses are not equipped with seat belts, even though the accident rate for minibuses remains higher than for any other types of vehicles in the city.

A seat-belt law not backed by strong enforcement action and mandatory installation is meaningless. Passengers should also do their part. If staying alive is just a simple click away, why not buckle up and travel safely, every trip and at all times.