SCMP Friday, February 9, 2001
Passengers proving reluctant to belt up
A law requiring passengers to wear seat belts in the back of taxis is meeting continuing opposition, with police issuing scores of summonses since it came into effect last month.
Many taxi drivers and passengers feel the law is inconvenient and unnecessary for short trips through crowded urban areas. They also question its effectiveness in saving lives.
The law requires back-seat passengers to wear seat belts if they are fitted in taxis, and requires newly registered taxis to be fitted with belts.
A passenger who ignores the law faces a maximum fine of $5,000 and three months in jail.
Last month the Sunday Morning Post revealed how some overweight passengers had complained the belts did not fit them.
Cab driver Chan Wai-kau said yesterday he still had to remind many of his passengers to use the belts.
"Many customers find it annoying because it is very inconvenient, especially if there are three people in the back," he said. "I don't think there is a need for the rule - the accident rate involving taxis is very low. The belts may provide some protection at night but it shouldn't be necessary in urban areas during daytime."
Fellow driver Wong So-yeung said elderly and middle-aged passengers experienced difficulty using the seat belts.
"Often, they put them over their necks, which is even more dangerous," he said. "The Government should consider only implementing the rule on highways. Many larger-than-average people find the seat belt is not long enough for them to fasten up, which is another problem."
One woman, who arrived with her four-year-old son in a taxi at Mongkok East rail station, said: "Overseas studies have found that wearing seat belts may be dangerous for children because the force of the belts could strangle them easily if the taxis brake suddenly."
Others said they would pretend to be seen complying with the rule by pulling the seat belts over themselves but not fastening them.
West Kowloon traffic police reported yesterday that they had issued 59 summonses last month against passengers for not wearing seat belts. All were handed out after a two-week grace period.
"Compared with summonses issued to jay-walkers, the situation is not that serious," said Senior Inspector Angela Lai Wai-yin, a road safety officer.
She added that while taxi rides in urban areas might often be short, the struggle between vehicles and pedestrians for use of the road would increase the chances of accidents and made seat belts even more important.
The Transport Department said it had been discussing with taxi manufacturers possible modifications to seat belts to cater for people with special needs.
At present there is no standard length for seat belts in taxis.