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LCQ2: Direct issue of Hong Kong full driving licences
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     Following is a question by the Hon Gary Fan and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (December 9):

Question:

     Under section 11(3) of the Road Traffic (Driving Licences) Regulations, the Commissioner for Transport may directly issue a Hong Kong full driving licence without test to an applicant holding a driver's certificate or licence issued by a competent authority in any country or place listed in the Fourth Schedule to the Regulations (direct issue of driving licences), so that the applicant may drive certain classes of vehicles in Hong Kong. Such an arrangement for direct issue of driving licences is applicable to the Mainland of China. It has been reported that the number of mainland residents applying for direct issue of driving licences has soared in recent years. The reasons behind that include the availability of agents in Hong Kong to lodge relevant applications on behalf of mainland residents, and the rumour on the Mainland that mainland residents holding Hong Kong driving licences may drive in many countries around the world. In connection with issues relating to mainland residents driving in Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the measures in place to curb the large number of mainland residents scrambling to lodge applications for direct issue of driving licences;

(2) as it has been reported that the number of traffic accidents involving mainland drivers issued with driving licences directly has been increasing continuously in the past three years, and such situation may be attributed to the disparity between the road traffic regulations of the two places and the differences between driversíŽ driving cultures prevailing in the two places, whether the authorities will exclude the Mainland of China from the places to which the arrangement for direct issue of driving licences is applicable, so as to safeguard road safety; and

(3) given that upon the implementation of the second phase of the Ad Hoc Quota Trial Scheme for Cross-boundary Private Cars (commonly known as "cross-boundary self-drive tours"), eligible drivers in Guangdong Province will be allowed to drive in Hong Kong without having to undergo any assessment or take any driving course, which has aroused concerns among quite a number of members of the public that the influx of private cars from the Mainland into Hong Kong will jeopardise road safety and overload the transport network, whether the authorities will shelve the second phase of the Scheme?
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Reply:

President,

     Under Section 11(3) of the Road Traffic (Driving Licences) Regulations (Cap. 374B) (the Regulation), the mechanism of "direct issue of Hong Kong full driving licence" allows a person holding an overseas driving licence issued by a "recognised country or place" to be directly issued with a Hong Kong full driving licence without taking a local driving test, for driving private cars, light goods vehicles not exceeding 5.5 tonnes in gross weight, motor cycles and motor tricycles. The "recognised countries or places" are set out in the Fourth Schedule to the Regulation, under which there are a total of 32 countries or places, including Mainland China (see Annex for details).

     According to the Regulation, the overseas driving licence must be still valid or must not have expired for over three years and must be obtained after successful completion of a driving test conducted in the country or place which issued the licence. Also, an applicant must be 18 years or older, and must meet one of the following requirements: (1) the overseas licence held was originally issued on any day during a period of the applicant's residence of not less than six months in the country or place of issue; or (2) the applicant has been holding the licence issued by the recognised country or place for not less than five years immediately prior to the application; or (3) the applicant is the holder of a passport or other equivalent travel document issued in the country or place in which the licence was issued.

     The Hong Kong driving licence is issued pursuant to the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374), authorising the holder to drive only within Hong Kong but not in other countries or places. Whether a holder of the Hong Kong driving licence is allowed to drive in other countries or places is a matter for individual countries or places. Regarding the rumour in the Mainland that holders of the Hong Kong driving licence may drive in different countries around the world, the Transport Department (TD) already made clarification the rumour last year in response to enquiries made by the Mainland media.

     The TD always prudently processes and validates each application for "direct issue of Hong Kong full driving licence" to ensure that the applicants have fully satisfied the statutory requirements and produced the authentic and accurate relevant supporting documents. If there is any doubt on the authenticity of an overseas or Mainland driving licence produced by an applicant, the TD will seek clarification and confirmation in respect of the doubtful cases from the consulate or relevant transport authority of the place concerned.

     Over the past three years (i.e. 2012, 2013 and 2014), the number of applications for direct issue of Hong Kong full driving licence rejected by the TD were 97, 148 and 125 respectively. All the unsuccessful applications were rejected on the ground that the applicants failed to fully meet the requirements under the Regulation. Generally, the reasons for rejection include discrepancy between the applicant's oversea driving licence and the information provided by the issuing authority; cancellation or expiration of the driving licence for more than three years; application made not on the basis of a full driving licence; or the applicant not meeting the requirement for period of residence in the country or place of issue under the Regulation.

     My reply to the three parts of Hon Gary Fan's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) The direct issue arrangements in Hong Kong and the Mainland are operated on a reciprocal and mutually beneficial basis. While the Hong Kong Government may directly issue a Hong Kong full driving licence without driving test to an applicant holding a Mainland driving licence, holders of Hong Kong full driving licence can also apply for a Mainland driving licence to be issued directly by the relevant Mainland authorities without taking a driving test. The direct issue mechanism between Hong Kong and the Mainland has been operating smoothly since its implementation in 1977.

     According to the data on "direct issue of Hong Kong full driving licence" maintained by the TD since 2007, the majority applicants have always been from the Mainland. However, there is no evidence that it causes any particular problem to road safety. From the statistics, the numbers of traffic accidents occurred in Hong Kong over the past three years (i.e. 2012, 2013 and 2014) are 15 894, 16 089 and 15 790 respectively and, among them, merely 66, 87 and 86 traffic accidents involved drivers who have been issued directly with Hong Kong licences through holding the Mainland driving licences. 90 per cent of those traffic accidents were minor and there has not been any fatal accident. Therefore, the Government has no intention to cease issuing Hong Kong driving licences directly to Mainland driving licence holders who have satisfied the various requirements.

(3) The Government launched the first phase of the "Ad Hoc Quota Trial Scheme for Cross Boundary Private Car" (i.e. Hong Kong private cars going to the Mainland, also commonly known as self-drive tour scheme) on March 30, 2012. As at end October this year, more than 5 000 eligible Hong Kong private cars with five seats have entered the Guangdong Province via the Shenzhen Bay Port under the Trial Scheme for a stay of not more than seven days. The Trial Scheme has been running smoothly for three and a half years since the launch. The Government will carefully observe and review the operation and effectiveness of the first phase of the Trial Scheme in different aspects, and maintain close contact with the relevant authorities of Guangdong Province and their designated agencies in Hong Kong (i.e. China Travel Service (Hong Kong) Limited and Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce) to improve the workflow. In respect of the second phase of the Trial Scheme (i.e. Guangdong private cars coming to Hong Kong), the two governments have already indicated that there is no concrete implementation timetable.

Ends/Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:43

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