【明報專訊】After a taxi ran out of control down a slope and hit several passers-by crossing the road, its 84-year-old driver has been arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving. The incident has once again raised concerns about the age of professional drivers.
In the accident, the taxi hit and injured the passers-by on Fortress Hill Road in North Point when the green light was on for pedestrians. Three passers-by suffered the unexpected misfortune and were injured, two of them severely and were left unconscious. It remains to be investigated whether the incident was due to mechanical failure or the condition of the driver. While it is unfair to jump to conclusions, even a taxi industry representative admits that it is not ideal for an 84-year-old to drive a taxi. On its part, the government emphasises that it has been paying attention to the health of drivers. Last year, an expert group was set up to review the physical fitness certification mechanism for driving licence holders and study whether there was room for adjustment, the government says.
In the past, 60 was regarded as the retirement age. Nowadays, many people who are over 60 years old are still full of vigour. Some people continue to work to make ends meet, while some are worried about the aimlessness of retirement life and would rather continue to work. Many experts incline to categorise old people between 65 and 74 years old as the "young old"; only those who are over 75 are considered the elderly. In Hong Kong, encouraging the "young old" to work has also been the general direction in recent years. As for the employment of elderly people, the job nature, as well as the physical and mental health of the person concerned, must be considered. Road safety has to do with human lives. A professional driver needs to pay attention to road conditions at all times, and prolonged driving can also cause fatigue. It is not difficult to understand the public concern about whether it is suitable for the elderly to be professional drivers.
In Hong Kong, the existing practice is to require drivers aged 70 or above to present a medical examination certificate issued and signed by a registered doctor before they can renew their driving licences for one year or three years. However, as there has been a string of car accidents involving elderly professional drivers, concerns inevitably arise about whether the standards for the current mechanism of examining physical fitness are too lax and whether on the parts of all parties, the implementation is perfunctory and sloppy. Professional drivers are different in nature from ordinary drivers. The authorities should strengthen the medical check-ups in terms of their contents. They may also consider an upper age limit on professional drivers, as suggested by the medical sector.
Multiple factors contribute to an ageing taxi and minibus driver population. Aside from the fact that the city's overall population is ageing and livelihood support for the elderly is insufficient, the lack of professional drivers and new blood are important reasons as well. Hong Kong has long been short of professional drivers. The long working hours and the small room for development are driving the young away from the industry.
Faced with similar problems are many developed economies like Singapore, which imports foreign drivers to deal with manpower shortages. Bringing in foreign labour suitably is already hardly avoidable. However, taxi and minibus drivers need to interact with passengers all the time. If there is a language barrier, there will likely be misunderstandings. On crowded Hong Kong high streets, road conditions are complicated. Non-local drivers may need more time to accommodate themselves, and passengers may be less confident in them.
In recent years, the government has proposed introducing a "taxi fleet management regime" with some drivers employed in fleets. In theory, it will create some management positions, which may help attract young people to join the industry. The Consumer Council also agrees with the direction of the reform. However, there is no way to know how good the plan will be until details are unveiled.
■ Glossary 生字 /
incline : to tend to think or behave in a particular way; to make sb do this
perfunctory : done as a duty or habit, without real interest, attention or feeling
sloppy : that shows a lack of care, thought or effort