Out-of-control cars

By Yo Tong on February 6, 2012
In 1995, Chen Zuoer, then deputy-director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, described Hong Kong's budget plan as an "out-of-control car". He may never have imagined that this has materialized in a more literal fashion.

In the coastal city of Hong Kong, it seems that burgeoning collaboration between the local government and China's central authorities has lead to several bizarre policies.

In mid-January, Hong Kong's government signed - without proper public consultation - an agreement with the government of the Southern Chinese province of Guangdong that will grant Chinese self-drive tourists (tourism by people who hire or travel in their own vehicle) access to Hong Kong's road network. The first phase of said agreement is to be implemented next month.

After the news broke out, there was widespread opposition amongst Hong Konge citizens. Although Hong Kong government emphasized that, in the first phase of the scheme, only Hong Kong cars will be granted cross-border access. So far it failed to alleviate the fear among Hongkongers.

There were two main arguments among Hong Kong netizens who were frustrated by this policy.

First, vehicles from mainland China will beckon an additional burden to Hong Kong's already-overloaded road network, which may lead to an increase in traffic accidents. Second, in the name of environmental protection, Hong Kong's government raised the Motor Vehicle First Registration Tax by 15% in February 2011. By allowing mainland vehicles into Hong Kong, which use lax-regulated, more polluted petrol, there is a lack of coherence in policy. Furthermore, it harms locals by discouraging them from purchasing new cars while encouraging mainlanders to enter the overcrowded city.

Several people commented:

Most Chinese people buy their driver's license, that's how they get it. Even in Australia, although all the roads are wide, they can't handle all the traffic; how can they drive in Hong Kong's narrow roads? The point is they never had have proper lessons; how can we protect ourselves when walking down the street?

Allowing mainlanders to drive in HK is really endangering our lives and we feel scared to walk on the road!

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Some netizens in Hong Kong even pointed out that, long before this agreement, there were already thousands of mainland Chinese cars with Hong Kong's FV vehicle plates. The latter are supposed to be government vehicles on official duty, which require approval by China's Public Security Bureau and an inspection in order to operate in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, there have been cases of FV vehicles spotted in some downtown high-class shopping areas like Tsimshatsui, with drivers carrying branded goods like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Other news sources, both local and international, have reported on ambulance-like FV vehicles that dashed across the border and brought pregnant Chinese women to Hong Kong's hospitals to give birth. Being born on Hong Kong soil, the babies are entitled to Hong Kong citizenship. Those ambulances (if one can call them such) are a gross violation to the law.

Netizens also exposed that mainland cars - by and large - ignore traffic signals and regulations. For instance, many cars use tinted glass, which is illegal according to the Road Traffic Regulation (Cap 374A reg 28). The latter states:

The glass or transparent material used in all windscreens, windows and partitions of a motor vehicle shall be safety glass or safety glazing

  1. Of a type approved by the Commissioner.
  2. Of such transparency that it does not obscure the view of the interior of the motor vehicle.
  3. Where practicable, clearly identifiable as safety glass or safety glazing by a permanent mark inscribed thereon.

What is more, there have been several reported cases wherein Chinese mainland drivers have refused to show their driving permit to the authorities. Netizens argued that any drivers' failure to display vehicle license is illegal according to Cap 374A reg 28, which says:

Except as otherwise provided by the Ordinance, no motor vehicle shall be upon or used on any road unless a valid vehicle license in respect of the vehicle is displayed.

From a safety standpoint, the above concerns are legitimate as wreckless driving is not uncommon in China.

On 14 October, 2011, major papers around the world ran stories about the death of the 2-year-old girl, Xiao Yue Yue, who was run over by two vehicles a week earlier and left lying in the street ignored by an astonishing 18 bystanders, as can be seen from a surveillance camera.

This leads to the question, how can such conduct be possible? Some have blamed this comportment to a Chinese self-protection mechanism, as there are so many false accidents. In November 2006, a 26-year-old man, Peng Yu, helped an elderly woman named Xu Shoulan after seeing her fall. Xu later claimed that Peng knocked her down. Six months later, a court sided with Xu and ordered Peng to cough up 45,000 yuan (US $7,140) in compensation. In another case that happened in Tianjin, a man giving an old woman a helping hand ended up being accused of injuring her. She asked for 100,000 yuan (US $15,866) compensation.

Another frame of mind that seems to be ingrained in the mainlander's upbringing is, as confessed by the first driver hitting Xiao Yue Yue: “If I kill someone while driving I need to only pay tens of thousands of yuan in compensation, but if I injure someone while driving, even hundreds of thousands of yuan are not enough.”

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Given the differences between Hong Kong's and Chinese laws, traffic system regulations, driving practices, etiquette, and barriers in law enforcement, those in Hong Kong can only pray that the tragedy of the two year old girl, Xiao Yue Yue, will not repeat itself in another gruesome example of reckless and thoroughly ludicrous driving.