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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Police crack down on people who use phones while driving as incidents spike by more than 50 per cent in New Territories

Nearly 2,400 tickets were issued for the crime in the first quarter of this year leading officials to declare traffic enforcement as a top priority

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 11:13pm

Police said on Wednesday they will remain vigilant against people who use their phones while driving after statistics revealed a 51 per cent increase in the crime in a New Territories district.

Speaking at a press briefing, superintendent Michael Yip Siu-ming of the New Territories South traffic division’s investigation and support unit, said police issued 2,370 tickets in the first quarter of the year to people using smartphones while driving. The figure for the same period last year was 1,565.

Talking on a phone or touching a smartphone is considered dangerous driving, although using the device for navigation is not.

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“Using smartphones while driving is a traffic enforcement priority … our frontline officers will combat it very seriously,” Yip said.

Concern over the use of smartphones in commercial vehicles had risen in recent years, especially with taxi drivers who often have several electronic devices mounted to dashboards.

Chief inspector Angus Choy Chun-wah, of the road safety unit, conceded that the law is vague about having multiple smartphones on the dashboard.

“It depends if the driver was affected by viewing the devices,” Choy said.

Yip said updating relevant laws and introducing tougher penalties could help frontline officers combat the crime.

Police also announced that cameras will be installed at roundabouts to gather evidence in an attempt to yield more convictions for inattentive driving. One of the test spots for a camera is a roundabout near the Tai Wai MTR station.

According to the police, the roundabout is a “black spot” where 167 accidents occurred last year.

“Usually [offenders] will change lanes carelessly without paying attention to [other] vehicles … sometimes other vehicles have to stop abruptly to prevent a traffic accident,” Yip said.

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Meanwhile, police wrapped up Operation Clearview, a month-long traffic enforcement campaign that started on April 1. Sixty people were arrested during the operation, including 51 for drink-driving. Police also issued more than 7,000 tickets and 183 court summons during the month.

More than 1,240 traffic accidents took place during the operation, which is about 4 per cent lower than the same time last year.

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Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said police did not keep statistics on motorists who were charged with dangerous or careless driving for placing multiple smartphones in their vehicles.

That said, Chan wrote in a response to a lawmaker’s question raised in the Legislative Council that drivers should avoid using smartphones while driving “as much as possible”.

“If a motorist uses a smartphone or device … in any way that affects his driving, he may have committed a dangerous driving or careless driving offence, irrespective of whether his driving has caused a traffic accident,” Chan said.

Chan also acknowledged the public’s concern with drivers with multiple smartphones on the dashboard and said the government was considering if restrictions should be introduced.

“We understand that motorists may have practical needs for using smartphones,” he said, “the government is examining the impact of such restrictions on drivers and other road users.”