Motion on “Resolving the problems of traffic safety of and insurance premium increases for taxis” (2023.06.29)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, President. I move that the motion, as printed on the Agenda, be passed.

The frequent traffic accidents involving taxis in recent years have not only directly threatened the safety of passengers, but also posed a danger to pedestrians, other drivers and vehicles. While I believe that the majority of taxi drivers are responsible drivers, there is a small minority who drive poorly or are too eager to compete for business, which directly or indirectly leads to accidents. Taxi accidents lead to increased insurance claims and premiums, which in turn lead to higher taxi fares, thus harming society for no good. By proposing the motion today, I hope to forge a consensus among the community, the taxi trade and the insurance sector to solve the current problems through innovative technology and other means to create a win-win situation for all parties.

As a major mode of transport, taxis are inevitably prone to accidents. According to the figures of the Transport Department, there are about 18 000 licensed taxis in Hong Kong. Over the past five years, from 2017 to 2021, there have been an average of over 4 300 traffic accidents involving taxis every year, with an accident rate as high as 24%. In other words, for every 100 taxis, 24 were involved in accidents each year. This compares with an accident rate of 18.7% for minibuses, 3.5% for lorries and just 1.6% for private cars.

Persistently high accident claims have kept taxi insurance in deficit. From 2017 to March this year, with the exception of 2021, the insurance has incurred a cumulative loss of more than $270 million. “The wool comes from the sheep.” As a result, insurance premiums have increased.

One of the reasons for the high number of taxi accidents is the driving attitude of the drivers. Recently, there have been a number of serious accidents involving elderly drivers, which have raised concerns about the problems caused by elderly drivers. In fact, there are currently over 30 000 licensed taxi drivers in Hong Kong who are aged 70 or above, and many of them are still active. According to government figures, the number of traffic accidents involving elderly taxi drivers is on the rise, with 17% of drivers aged 65 or above in 2018, gradually increasing to 27% last year. Furthermore, over the past five years, an average of 44% of taxi drivers involved in accidents each year were aged 60 or over. It is therefore is important for the community to address the issue of ageing drivers.

To address this issue, the Government has proposed to tighten the medical examination requirements for elderly professional drivers. The age threshold for medical examinations for professional drivers will be lowered from 70 to 65, and the medical examination will have to take place once a year. Drivers will have to pass vision, hearing and other tests. Drivers suffering from night blindness, cognitive impairment, malignant tumours, etc. will not be issued a professional driving licence. Following a later consultation with stakeholders, the proposal is expected to be submitted to the Legislative Council for consideration next year. The Government’s proposal is based on road safety considerations and I agree with this general direction. The details of the implementation will need to be discussed again with the taxi trade, including the age at which the medical examination should start, and whether it should be annual or biennial. If the taxi trade has sufficient arguments to convince the Government, I am open to suggestions. However, drivers should be aware of their own physical condition and seek early medical treatment, which will benefit both themselves and others. To reduce the economic burden on drivers, the Government should also provide subsidies for medical examinations.

In addition, I suggest that the Government provide appropriate incentives for owners to phase out old taxis in poor condition and introduce stricter annual inspection standards for taxis over 20 years old. Currently, the majority of taxis on the roads are relatively comfortable new models, but there are still over 1 000 taxis that are 20 years old or older that pose a potential danger on the roads. We should therefore take this opportunity to urge the Government to help the taxi trade to replace old vehicles so that old taxis over 20 years old can be gradually phased out.

The Government is currently exploring a plan to offer a 100% loan guarantee scheme to encourage the taxi industry to switch to electric taxis. However, it should consider providing more incentives and support facilities, such as adequate access to charging stations. It is an important policy of Hong Kong to phase out old vehicles. In the past, we have also phased out diesel goods vehicles that have reached 15 years of age and provided incentives to encourage private car owners to switch to electric cars. In addition, the Government is considering a taxi fleet management regime that would impose a 10-year age limit on taxis. The aim of phasing out old vehicles is not only to protect the environment, but also to ensure road safety. Older vehicles pose safety risks, while newer ones are safer and more comfortable. In order to improve the service quality of the taxi industry, it is crucial to replace old vehicles.

Hong Kong is gradually becoming a smart city, and the transport industry should also move with the times. I propose to solve the problem of taxi accidents through innovative technology, including requiring taxis to gradually install driver assistance devices that can detect potential risks and monitor drivers’ mental state, such as drowsiness, speeding and dangerous driving, and distracting phone use. Drivers will be alerted by a voice system. The system will also record video footage to help rectify drivers’ bad driving habits. A local technology company has installed the system in more than 600 taxis and collected more than 200 000 data points. The data shows that the accident rate of taxis with the system is much lower than the overall rate, proving that the system can play a real role in monitoring. The Government can study the system further and help the industry to introduce similar systems if it proves feasible.

I also propose that all taxis should progressively be fitted with cloud-connected dash cameras to record actual traffic conditions, in order to clarify responsibilities in the event of an accident and to prevent insurance fraud. In recent years, there has been an increase in car insurance fraud by lawbreakers. Even if the car owner has installed a dash camera, it is often discovered after an accident that there is no memory card inserted or that the camera has malfunctioned and failed to record the situation at the time of the accident. If a recorder is connected to the cloud, there is no need to worry about video footage suddenly disappearing.

In addition, there are loopholes in the current insurance claims mechanism, which allows claims to be made at any time within three years of an accident. This arrangement can be easily exploited by criminals because after three years it is impossible to determine how serious the accident was or how serious the driver’s injuries were. If there is a cloud-based system to record the actual situation, the insurance company will have the certainty to adopt a compensation strategy commensurate with the severity of the accident and settle the claim at an early stage. This will significantly streamline the legal process and reduce legal fees and effectively combat insurance fraud. Overall compensation will certainly fall.

Taxi accidents and related insurance fraud have plagued the taxi and insurance industries for many years, and technological development provides an opportunity to solve the problem. With the hardware and software now available, all stakeholders can work together and achieve the goal step by step. Therefore, I suggest that the Transport Department and the Insurance Authority take the lead and allow all stakeholders to study a solution that is both effective in preventing taxi accidents and is acceptable to all stakeholders. As I proposed earlier, if the taxi industry is willing to accept the introduction of driver assistance devices and cloud-connected cameras, the insurance sector should also consider offering discounts on insurance premiums or insurance excesses as an incentive.

The mechanism by which insurance works is that premiums are charged according to risk. By reducing the number of accidents, reducing fraud and tackling exaggerated insurance claims, compensation will fall and premiums will naturally decrease. I truly believe that it is time to use technology to solve the problems of taxi accidents and insurance premium increases that have plagued the taxi and insurance industries for many years. I hope that all members will support the motion.

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, Deputy President. First of all, I would like to thank Mr Frankie YICK, Ir CHAN Siu-hung and Mr CHAN Han-pan for their amendments, which have enriched and improved my original motion.

I fully concur with Mr Frankie YICK’s suggestion of “encouraging insurance companies to adopt an incentive and penalty mechanism to provide insurance premium discount for taxis with measures to reduce the risk of accidents and good records and management”, and I am also working hard to achieve this. I believe the insurance sector is willing to look into this issue. I also agree with Mr Frankie YICK’s proposals of “enhancing publicity of health education for taxi drivers” and “improving drivers’ management of their own health conditions”.

While Mr Frankie YICK suggested raising the age of medical examination to 68, I respect that he is expressing the industry’s perspective, but I think it is better to start the examination at 65. If they pass, they can continue to work happily. If any health problems are detected, they can also seek early treatment, which would benefit both drivers and society. Changing the examination age to 68 would essentially just delay the treatment and detection of the problems, which would not benefit the drivers.

Mr CHAN Han-pan also proposed a change in the medical examination age, suggesting that “those aged between 65 and 69 who meet the Medical Examination Certificate requirements may undergo medical examination once every two years”. This proposal optimizes rather than changes the age requirement of 65, only proposing that the examinations for drivers under 69 and in good health be changed to once every two years. I think this is worth considering and I will support Mr CHAN’s amendment.

The proposals by Ir CHAN Siu-hung and Mr CHAN Han-pan to assist taxis to convert to electric or new energy vehicles in order to phase out old taxis in poor condition are also in line with the original intention of my motion, and I absolutely support them. At the same time, I fully support the two Members’ proposals to improve the quality of taxi services.

Thank you, Deputy President.

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