Why is Hong Kong so slow to adopt new technology?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2015, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2015, 3:59pm

The recent furore over autopilot features and over-the-air software updates being delivered to cars in Hong Kong should serve to remind us all how resistant to change Hong Kong has become. The legislation is so out of date, and so unmaintained, that every emerging new technology is summarily banned upon first introduction. At times it seems that our Transport Department would prefer us all to be still riding around in rickshaws.

It took until 2012 for legislation to be enacted to allow electric vehicles on the expressways of Hong Kong. Even then, this has only been permitted for private cars, motorcycles and tricycles. Electric commercial vehicles, buses and trucks are still banned from expressways. Similarly, the legislation still has no allowance for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, or other alternative forms of fuel.

Visual display units showing useful information are still banned, despite the hypocritical situation that you can step into any Hong Kong taxi and see a line of smartphones in front of the driver. I understand the issue of driver distraction, but why should such systems be banned even if the vehicle is parked? After years of lobbying, the Transport Department has just recently passed an exception to allow DAB radios to be installed in our vehicles, but that is 1990s technology.

Specially designed permanent child seats (the safest seats in the car) are banned because adults cannot sit in them. This, despite the fact that Hong Kong still has no child seat regulations. A toddler can legally sit on your lap without a seat belt, even beyond the number of licensed passengers and seat belts. Is it not obvious what happens to such unrestrained children in an accident? For each new technology that arrives, the safety card is played. Yet where is the uproar when it comes to our children? Our figure of approximately 15,000 road accidents a year has been unchanged for 30 years. Driver assist safety features are already in place in many cars, and save lives and property every day - except in Hong Kong.

I think the core question we should be asking ourselves is, why is Hong Kong so different? If these technologies are approved and working throughout the world, why should they be held back from the roads of Hong Kong?

Why should we be structuring our legislation and regulations in such a way that innovation is stifled? Our government departments should be pro-active, and not reactive.

It seems that Hong Kong simply doesn't want to join the 21st century. I would prefer that it leads rather than follows a decade behind.

Mark Webb-Johnson, Sai Kung