End the exemption on seat belts for minibuses
There can never be an excuse not to ensure safety; the message that we should buckle up every time will not sink in while there are still vehicles for which the rules do not apply
Seat belts are a proven way of making travel safer. Yet 33 years after the first laws on their use were introduced in Hong Kong, there are still vehicles not fitted with them and some people forget to buckle up. About 1,000 minibuses, just under a quarter of our city’s 4,300-strong fleet, are not equipped, having been exempted a dozen years ago because of age. Given the need to protect every passenger, there is no good reason why they continue to be excluded.
The issue is the subject of a judicial review brought by a man concerned that so many public light buses still lack belts. But rather than approaching it through a court ruling, a better way would be to change the Road Traffic Ordinance. Its aim is to keep all people in every vehicle, drivers and passengers alike, safe. With so many of the 1.8 million daily minibus journeys not yet covered, there is every reason for authorities and lawmakers to revisit the regulations.
All new vehicles are required to have seat belts and their use is compulsory. Proving the government’s regard for safety, the maximum penalty for ignoring the law is a HK$5,000 fine and three months’ jail. But minibuses not fitted with belts before August 1, 2004, were exempted from the rules. It could still be years before these old vehicles are retired, putting lives unnecessarily in danger.
The owners of the exempt buses contend that it is technically impossible to fit them with belts, and say expense is not the issue. Public vehicles that are so old still being operated is one matter, but questions have to be raised as to why new seats with belts cannot be installed. Seat belts have time and again been proven to save lives, such as last month when a minibus and double-decker bus collided in Cheung Sha Wan. There can never be an excuse not to ensure safety; the message that we should buckle up every time will not sink in while there are exemptions.