A driver disinfects a taxi designated for epidemic control in Hong Kong, south China, Mar 22, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Bus drivers, local residents and labor group representatives agreed that the government’s plan to tighten medical examination standards for drivers over 70 years old who are seeking to renew their driving license will help reduce traffic accidents and better protect public safety.

They also noted that the elderly face heavy life pressures, and called for government subsidies on the medical checks and other support to address their difficulties and help them to live a quality life. 

According to the Transport Department of Hong Kong, drivers over 70 were involved in 876 traffic accidents in 2021, and the number increased to 890 in 2022

The Hong Kong government is studying ways to tighten the medical examination requirements for professional drivers over 70 years old, by adding more checks such as for hearing and muscle reaction. Elderly drivers may also need to report specified illnesses and disabilities, such as eye or hearing diseases, lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung revealed on Thursday.

READ MORE: HK should take proactive attitude towards autonomous driving

Traffic accidents involving elderly professional drivers have frequently occurred in Hong Kong, arousing public concern in recent months about whether they are physically able to meet the job requirements.

According to the Transport Department of Hong Kong, drivers over 70 were involved in 876 traffic accidents in 2021, and the number increased to 890 in 2022.

As of March 2022, over 237,000 driving licenses were held by drivers over the age of 70, with 221,223 held by drivers aged 70 to 79, 15,635 by drivers aged 80 to 89, and 630 by drivers aged over 90.

Currently, drivers over 70 must provide a medical certificate within four months when applying for a driving license, and their license can be renewed for one year or three years, depending on their individual health condition. Applicants must undergo a medical examination when renewing their license.

To Sun-tong, deputy director of the Kowloon Branch of the Motor Transport Workers General Union, pointed out that physical examinations of elderly drivers lack a uniform standard. Currently, doctors only measure the blood pressure of drivers and ask them about their health condition, which he believes is insufficient. 

He believes tighter requirements for license renewals would reduce the risk of traffic accidents, reassure passengers, and also reduce drivers’ concerns about their health while working.

A minibus driver who works in Aberdeen said the tightening of health requirements would also protect elderly drivers' safety, given the high pressure of their jobs, which require long working hours and constant rotation.

He called on elderly bus drivers to follow the government’s rules and to constantly assess themselves to ensure they are in a suitable physical condition to cope with the intensive nature of the work.

A Kowloon Motor bus driver surnamed Chan, who is 57 years old, said that many Hong Kong elderly drivers choose to continue to work as they face heavy life pressures and bear great responsibility for their families. 

He encouraged those whose health condition does not meet the new requirements to seek other work that does not pose a risk to public safety.

Fan Kuang-Yao, a Hong Kong resident who was getting on the bus in Aberdeen, said stricter bodycheck requirements will help ensure the drivers maintain a good standard of health and passengers will also feel more assured when taking buses and taxis.

READ MORE: Hong Kong steering into a faster, safer lane

Yet he also noted that acute illnesses are also common among elderly drivers, and are difficult to predict and prevent. He hopes that elderly drivers will closely monitor their own health situation and receive frequent bodychecks to minimize the risks.

Luk, who is also a member of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, the city’s largest labor group, suggested that the body examinations of drivers should be undertaken by clinics designated by the government, with the medical examination fees subsidized by the government.

In June of last year, the Transport Department of Hong Kong established an expert group to further examine the relevant regulations. Public consultations are expected to start before the middle of this year.