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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Seat belts for new coaches only as cost is HK$300,000 per vehicle, Hong Kong operators say after deadly Tsing Yi crash

  • Too costly to install belts on existing coaches, industry representatives say
  • Older models may only be worth HK$100,000 to HK$200,000 in the first place
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 6:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 10:32pm

Seat belts should only be installed on newly built coaches because the cost could be as high as HK$300,000 (US$38,400) per vehicle, operators told Hong Kong transport officials on Wednesday.

A road accident last Friday in which a coach ploughed into a stationary taxi on the Cheung Tsing Highway in Tsing Yi, leaving six dead and 31 injured, has intensified calls for extra safety measures.

Tang Chi-keung, vice-chairman of the Public Omnibus Operators Association, said industry representatives had agreed at a meeting with the government to install belts on new coaches, but not existing ones.

“It’s not as easy as just installing the belts. You need to tear up the flooring, replace the seats, and then run safety tests,” he said after the meeting.

“Doing so on an old vehicle could cost you HK$300,000. The vehicle itself may only be worth some HK$100,000 to HK$200,000. It’s not worth it.”

On new coaches the cost would still be about HK$150,000, Tang added.

Of the 7,000 coaches in Hong Kong, about half already had seat belts, he said.

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The industry would support the installation of black boxes and other devices that could detect a collision before it happened, he said, but also only for new coaches.

On exhaust pipe emissions, he said the government had already announced the phasing out of Euro III vehicles by the end of next year and Euro IV vehicles by the end of 2023.

Officials at Wednesday’s meeting also discussed with operators the issue of driver working hours.

Fok Chi-sum, the 62-year-old behind the wheel of the coach that crashed on Friday, may have been exhausted or overworked, police have said. Fok died on Tuesday from his injuries.

He had been working for 10 hours by the time the accident took place just before 5am, and often did 12-hour night shifts.

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His employer said Fok had taken a four-hour break during his shift on Friday, but other drivers have argued that such breaks, often spent inside the coach, were not of good quality, with drivers on standby for the next job.

Tang said the sporadic frequency of coach trips meant regulating working hours was difficult.

Transport minister Frank Chan Fan on Wednesday said 111 people had been killed in traffic accidents in the first 10 months of this year, up from 86 in the same period of 2017 – a rise of almost 30 per cent.

But the number seriously injured dropped by 33 per cent to 1,307.

The Transport Department said in a statement it would set up a special working group on safety measures for coaches. Industry representatives supported making it compulsory for passengers to buckle up, the department added, but they did not want drivers to bear any responsibility if passengers declined to do so.

The department also said the representatives agreed that guidelines on working hours should be issued to prevent drivers getting behind the wheel when exhausted.