5th March 2023 – (Hong Kong) A spate of taxi accidents has raised concerns over the safety of older taxi drivers in Hong Kong. Recent incidents have highlighted the dangers of older drivers behind the wheel, with several accidents resulting in serious injuries and fatalities.

On 4th January 2023, a taxi was carrying a passenger was driving along Chuk Yuen Road in Wong Tai Sin. When it approached the opposite side of Tsui Chuk Shopping Centre, it was suspected of losing control and crashed into the rear of a container truck parked on the roadside. The front of the taxi was severely damaged. Due to the force of the collision, the driver and passenger were trapped, and a passing motorist had to call the police for help. Firefighters and paramedics rushed to the scene and rescued the taxi driver (77 years old) and a male passenger (47 years old). The male passenger was bleeding from the face and fell into a coma, while the driver bruised his forehead. Both were sent to the hospital for treatment. The male passenger was subsequently certified dead.

During the evening of 19th January, 2023, an 87-year-old taxi driver named Leung lost control of his vehicle while driving towards Central and collided with a private car on Gloucester Road. The situation then escalated as Leung proceeded onto Tonnochy Road, where he collided with six parked motorcycles before continuing onto Jaffe Road, where he collided with a truck. Despite the severity of the incident, Leung was fortunate enough to have sustained no injuries, and declined an offer to be transported to the hospital for further examination. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Leung has been involved in a traffic accident in recent times. On 12th January, 2023, at approximately 4pm, Leung was driving along Harcourt Road towards Central when he lost control of his vehicle and collided with Admiralty Centre. The impact caused Leung’s vehicle to overturn on its right side, and he and a female passenger named Ip (aged 60) were trapped inside. Thankfully, firefighters were able to rescue the two without any serious injuries, and they were subsequently transported to the hospital for examination.

On 23rd February, 2023, a 71-year-old taxi driver lost control of his vehicle while driving along Garden Road in Central. The taxi crashed into the escalator of 50/F., Champion Tower, 3 Garden Road, causing significant damage. Emergency response teams were quickly deployed to the scene, and both injured individuals were transported to a local hospital for treatment. The driver was later examined at Queen Mary Hospital after reporting dizziness. This incident was followed by another taxi accident on Fortress Hill Road today involving an 85-year-old driver that injured three pedestrians, two of whom are now in a coma.

The President of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, Ringo LEE Yiu-pui, has stated that similar traffic accidents have occurred near the location of the recent taxi crash in North Point. He suggested that most of these accidents were caused by human error, such as driver distraction, but he did not rule out the possibility that this accident was caused by mechanical failure, such as brake malfunction.

Lee also pointed out that the involved taxi driver was over 80 years old and there have been several incidents involving elderly professional drivers in recent times. He believes that the authorities should review the policy on renewing licenses for elderly drivers. Currently, drivers aged 70 or above only need to obtain a “health certificate” issued by a registered doctor to renew their licenses. Lee suggested that the government should consider subsidising comprehensive medical examinations for professional drivers before they renew their licenses, to ensure that their physical condition is suitable for driving.

Legislator Kwok Wai-keung noted that the incident occurred on a well-known stretch of road in the area that sees a lot of traffic. He said that the road is not a black spot for accidents, and this incident was an individual case. Kwok emphasised the need for professional drivers to prioritise safety awareness. The authorities are urged to review the policy on renewing licenses for elderly drivers and take measures to enhance road safety.

These incidents are part of a disturbing trend, with more accidents across Hong Kong involving older taxi drivers. According to the Transport Department, nearly half of all Hong Kong taxi drivers are aged 60 or above, with most between 60 and 69. The average age of taxi drivers in Hong Kong is also on the rise, with the age limit for taxi drivers set at 70 years old.

According to data from the Hong Kong Transport Department, the city’s taxi driver population consists of a significant number of older individuals, with over 8 percent of drivers being older than 70 years old. Furthermore, only a small fraction of drivers, approximately 15 percent, are younger than 50 years old.

It is notable that Hong Kong does not have a mandated retirement age for its taxi drivers, which raises questions about the implications of an aging workforce in this profession. This situation also highlights the need for policies and regulations that address the unique challenges faced by older drivers in the taxi industry.

While some older taxi drivers may possess a wealth of experience and knowledge of the city’s roads, it is also important to consider the potential physical and cognitive limitations that come with aging. Ensuring the safety and well-being of both drivers and passengers should be a top priority for policymakers and industry stakeholders.

As Hong Kong continues to develop and evolve, it is crucial to evaluate the impact of an aging taxi driver population and take steps to support their needs while also ensuring public safety. By addressing this issue proactively, we can create a more sustainable and equitable transportation system for all.

In light of these incidents, there are calls for more thorough health checks to ensure that aging drivers are fit to operate a taxi. The Hong Kong Transport Department mandates that taxi drivers must undergo medical examinations every three years to ensure they meet the health standards set by the department. These regulations are in place to ensure that taxi drivers are physically and mentally capable of providing a safe and reliable service to passengers.

As part of ongoing measures to improve the quality of taxi services in Hong Kong, the Transport Department has also implemented training programs for taxi drivers. These programs aim to enhance drivers’ knowledge and skills in customer service, communication, and road safety.

Despite these measures, there is still concern over the safety of older taxi drivers on Hong Kong roads. Lawmakers are calling for more stringent health checks and regulations to ensure that taxi drivers are fit to operate a vehicle. It is important for both the public and taxi drivers to prioritise safety and to take necessary precautions to prevent accidents and injuries on the road.

The recent incidents involving older taxi drivers has once again sparked debate about whether Hong Kong should impose a maximum age limit for taxi drivers.

Proponents of a maximum age limit argue that as drivers age, their reaction time, vision, and cognitive abilities can decline, potentially putting themselves and others on the road at risk. They suggest that a mandatory retirement age could help ensure that only physically and mentally capable individuals are behind the wheel of a taxi, ultimately promoting safety on the roads.

However, opponents of a maximum age limit point out that age alone is not necessarily a good indicator of driving ability. Many elderly drivers are still in good physical and mental health and are perfectly capable of operating a vehicle safely. Imposing an age limit could also be seen as discriminatory and unfair, particularly for those drivers who rely on their income from driving.

Furthermore, some have suggested that rather than imposing a maximum age limit, a more effective solution would be to implement regular health check-ups for all taxi drivers to ensure they are fit to drive. This could help identify any physical or cognitive impairments that could affect driving ability, regardless of age.

Overall, while the safety of all road users should be a top priority, the question of whether Hong Kong should impose a maximum age limit for taxi drivers is a complex and contentious issue. It is up to policymakers to carefully consider all options and strike a balance between safety concerns and the rights of elderly drivers to earn a living.