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LCQ11: Health requirements of public transport drivers
     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (April 26):
     It was reported that earlier this year, a taxi ran out of control leading to the death of its 78-year-old driver, and the traffic accident was believed to have been caused by the sudden indisposition of the driver. Regarding the health conditions of public transport drivers, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of traffic accidents in the past three years allegedly caused by public transport drivers suffering from bouts of illness while driving, and the resultant casualties; of the highest and the average ages of the drivers concerned;
(2) whether it knows (i) the age threshold for newly recruited drivers and (ii) the requirements on declaration of physical fitness by newly recruited and serving drivers as well as the arrangements for their undergoing medical examinations, currently set by various public transport operators;
(3) of the respective numbers of cases in the past three years of issuance and renewal of driving licences for various classes of commercial vehicles, and the number of applications rejected as well as the reasons for the rejection; and
(4) apart from the stipulation in the Road Traffic (Driving Licences) Regulations (Cap 374 sub leg B) that an application from a person aged 70 or above for issuance or renewal of a driving licence shall be accompanied by a certificate issued by a registered medical practitioner certifying that the person is medically fit to drive the relevant class of motor vehicle, whether the authorities have measures in place to ensure that public transport drivers drive only when they are physically fit, in order to safeguard the safety of passengers and other road users?
     My reply to the various parts of the Hon Mrs Regina Ip's question is as follows:
(1) The number of traffic accidents resulting in casualties caused by public transport drivers suffering from bouts of illness whilst driving and the number of the resulting casualties from 2014 to 2016 are as follows:
  2014 2015 2016
No. of traffic accidents 3 4 3
No. of casualties 5 6 6

     The aforesaid traffic accidents did not result in any deaths. The highest age and average age of the drivers concerned was 75 and 63.8 respectively. In addition, during the same period, 11 public transport drivers died from bouts of illness whilst driving but those incidents did not result in casualties of other road users.
(2) and (4) Under the Road Traffic (Driving Licences) Regulations (Cap 374B) (the Regulations), an applicant for a new, reissued (e.g. application for a reissued probationary driving licence after the full driving licence has been cancelled) or renewed driving licence shall make a declaration in the application form on whether he/she is suffering from any disease or physical disability specified in the First Schedule to the Regulations (such as epilepsy, mental disorder and hypertension), or any disease or physical disability that would cause his/her driving to be a source of danger to the public. If, from the declaration so made, it appears to the Commissioner for Transport (the Commissioner) that the applicant is suffering from the specified disease or physical disability, the Commissioner shall refuse the application. If the applicant makes a declaration that he/she is suffering from a disease or physical disability other than those listed in the First Schedule, he/she may request to attend a test specified by the Commissioner as to his/her ability to drive. If the applicant passes the test, the Commissioner cannot refuse his/her application by reason only of the declared disease or physical disability. Applicants will commit an offence if they knowingly provide inaccurate information. According to Section 111(3) of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374), offenders are liable to a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for six months. Moreover, for applicants aged 60 or above but less than 70, unlike ordinary driving licence which is valid for ten years, their driving licences shall be valid for three years or up to the day before he/she attains the age of 70, whichever is the longer. The Regulations also stipulate that an applicant aged 70 or above shall, on application for a new, reissued or renewed driving licence, submit a medical examination report form completed and signed by a registered medical practitioner not earlier than four months before the application to certify that the applicant is medically fit to drive. It is also laid down in the Regulations that an applicant aged 70 or above may only choose the driving licence with a validity period of one year or three years. The Regulations also require a holder of valid driving licence to inform the Commissioner forthwith in writing if he/she finds that he has the above disease or physical disability. Anyone who contravenes the said requirements commits an offence and is liable to a fine of $2,000.
     Franchised buses serve as road-based mass carriers. The operators have devised clear requirements on the age and physical health of bus captains. On the age requirement, the retirement age for bus captains is 60 or 65 (depending on the arrangement of individual operators). Depending on their manpower needs, some operators will flexibly extend the employment period of their bus captains on a contract basis up to the age limit of 66 or 67 (depending on the arrangement of individual operators).
     Franchised bus operators have also put in place a requirement for bus captains to undergo health checks before joining the service, and formulated detailed arrangements for serving bus captains of different ages to undergo annual health checks having regard to their health conditions. Specifically, all full-time and part-time bus captains before joining the service are required to declare their health conditions and pass a health check (which includes chest examination as well as eyesight, hearing, diabetes, blood pressure, blood and urine tests) such that he/she is certified by a doctor to be physically fit to drive buses. As regards the health checks for serving bus captains, all franchised bus operators currently require bus captains aged 50 or above to undergo annual health checks which cover chest examination as well as eyesight, hearing, diabetes, blood pressure, blood and urine tests. After a joint review by the Transport Department (TD) and franchised bus operators, the latter have enhanced the arrangements concerned since August 2013. For bus captains at the age of 50, 54, 57 or 60 or above, they are also required to undergo an electrocardiogram as part of the health check. Moreover, for bus captains who have suffered a stroke or cardiovascular diseases, or are on medication due to diabetes mellitus or hypertension, they are also required to declare such illness(es) to their operators and undergo an electrocardiogram in their annual health checks. Franchised bus operators have also issued guidelines to remind their bus captains not to continue driving if feeling unwell while on duty and to consult doctors promptly. Franchised bus operators will also observe the mental condition of bus captains during daily operations. They will suspend the driving duties of any bus captain observed to have an abnormal mental condition immediately.
     Among other road-based public transport modes, trams also have a high carrying capacity. The Hong Kong Tramways Limited has stipulated that tram drivers shall retire at the age of 65. All tram drivers have to undergo an eyesight test annually, while those aged between 55 and 59 are also required to undergo blood pressure tests annually. Those aged 60 or above are required to undergo a general check-up before annual contract renewal, which covers items including physical check, health questionnaire, blood test, routine urine test, chest examination and eyesight test.
     As regards non-franchised buses, public light buses and taxis, they do not have standardised arrangement as these sectors recruit drivers and operate distinctively. While these sectors have not specified a mandatory requirement, the number of drivers aged over 70 is small in general. In case any duty driver is unwell or suffers from abnormal health conditions, the operator concerned will, for safety's sake, take appropriate measures which include suspending the driving duties of the driver concerned immediately and reminding him/her to consult a doctor promptly. If the TD is aware, through passenger complaints or other channels, of any driver of road-based transport vehicles who may have suffered from abnormal mental condition, the department will proactively liaise with the operator concerned to understand the situation and take appropriate follow-up action. It should be emphasised that the afore-mentioned additional requirements under the Regulations for the issue, reissue or renewal of driving licences for drivers who suffer from the specified diseases or physical disabilities, or who are 70 years of age or more, are applicable to drivers of all road-based modes of public transport.
     Meanwhile, the TD will continue to enhance commercial vehicle drivers' awareness of safe driving and health by means of training and education, including the publicity campaign "Safe Driving and Health Campaign" and seminars on safe driving co-organised by the department and the Police. During the annual "Safe Driving and Health Campaign", the TD will distribute coupons to commercial vehicle drivers (including public transport drivers) to encourage them to conduct free health checks at medical institutions. Through meetings with the trade and regular newsletters, the TD also reminds operators and the trade to pay attention to drivers' physical condition and encourage them to have regular check-ups.
(3) There is no definition of "commercial vehicles" in the existing legislation. For the purpose of classifying driving licences, taxis, medium goods vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, private and public light buses, private and public buses, franchised buses, articulated vehicles and special purpose vehicles are generally regarded as "commercial vehicles". At present, there are about 380 000 persons holding driving licences of commercial vehicles. The number of driving licences for commercial vehicles issued by the TD in the three year period from 2014 to 2016 is as follows:
Year (calendar year) No. of driving licences
New issue Renewal
2014 21 708 30 877
2015 20 919 30 686
2016 18 703 34 946
     During the above three year period, the TD refused two applications for new or renewal of driving licences for commercial vehicles in 2014, and one in 2015 and one in 2016. The above applications were rejected because the Commissioner, having assessed the information declared by the applicants, considered that the applicants were not medically fit for driving.
Ends/Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:15
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