Stricter checks loom for senior drivers

Top News | Leung Pak-hei and Michael Shum 26 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman has suggested the Transport Department specify the examination items for issuing senior drivers' physical fitness certification, to mitigate the risk of traffic accidents.

Under current requirements, driving license applicants aged 70 or above must provide a medical examination certificate signed by a registered doctor to the Transport Department at least every three years to confirm that they are medically fit to drive.

In a direct investigation report released yesterday, the Ombudsman Winnie Chiu Wai-yin said the department has listed out considerations that the doctor should take into account while doing a medical check on drivers.

These include the driver's eyesight, hearing, mental state, skeletal and muscular system, balance and coordination.

But the Ombudsman revealed that the department currently does not specify any compulsory items of medical examinations on the certificate of applicants.

The Ombudsman also recommended the department provide medical examinations for commercial vehicle drivers reaching a specified age, and to step up publicity to remind drivers to take care of their health as well as explore ways to facilitate drivers to undergo the examinations.

"In view of Hong Kong's aging population and heavy commercial vehicles having a greater risk of being involved in traffic accidents, the [Transport Department] should adjust the requirements for physical fitness certification of senior drivers and professional drivers," Chiu said.

She also said many jurisdictions have introduced stricter requirements for senior and professional drivers.

The Transport Department said in response that it is reviewing the medical examination mechanism for driving license holders, and will consult stakeholders later.

Motor Transport Workers General Union (Public Light Bus Branch) chairman Chan Fung-yuen said he welcomes the suggestions, but added that the government should subsidize drivers for the medical checks.

"If drivers have to do check-ups, then it should be done thoroughly, as many drivers have hidden illnesses due to the stress while operating a vehicle on Hong Kong roads," Chan said.

"But every check-up will cost at least HK$1,000 or even more, many drivers might not be able to make ends meet, therefore I think the government must help."

Currently, driving license applicants in Hong Kong are required to declare to the department whether they have any disease or physical disability that may cause them to be a source of danger to the public when they drive motor vehicles.

There are no laws in Hong Kong requiring commercial vehicle drivers, including minibus and taxi drivers, to undergo medical checks.

Only franchised bus drivers and tram companies require their drivers to undergo regular medical checks.

In Macau, all commercial vehicle drivers aged 35 or above would have to undergo special medical checks every five to 10 years, with detailed requirements regarding a driver's hands, eyesight and hearing.

Regular driving license holders also have to undergo medical checks when they reach 65 years old.

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