Wednesday, June 15, 2016

[EJinsight] When will our govt officials learn to move with the times?

The government recently made our city the laughing stock of the world by "reminding" electric car maker Tesla to remove the calendar app from the dashboard display of its vehicles sold in Hong Kong.

The reason for the request, according to the Transport Department, is because the app might distract motorists and endanger other road users.

Besides, under the existing Road Traffic (Construction and Maintenance of Vehicles) Ordinance, all built-in displays in cars driven in Hong Kong are only allowed to show data related to the current mechanical state of the vehicle, images from the rear parking video camera, and GPS and other navigation data.

The calendar app obviously doesn't fall into these categories.

The mind-boggling instruction has caught Tesla completely off guard and also raised a lot of eyebrows among local Tesla owners.

They find it surprising as to why our supposedly very intelligent and well-read government decision-makers won't allow the use of a highly popular electronic feature that has been widely used in almost every major city across the globe.

In fact the incident is just another example of how the mindset of our bureaucrats hasn't kept pace with the technological advancements in the 21st century.

During a meeting with Tesla owners and members from two electric car owners clubs recently, Transport Department officials came under severe criticism, with one motorist saying that the officials seem to be living in the Stone Age.

Calls were made for a review of the laws regulating built-in dashboard displays, as the motorists argued that the laws are completely outdated.

The car owners indeed have every reason to feel upset.

As vehicles rolling off production lines these days are fitted with an ever-growing variety of electronic equipment and displays, outdated rules in Hong Kong will mean that car owners in the city won't be able to enjoy the fancy new features.

Looking at the future of the auto industry globally, it will just be a matter of time before smart cars or even self-driving cars will rule the roads.

Governments in almost every developed country -- including the UK, New Zealand, Germany and France -- are working aggressively to review their traffic laws in order to adapt to the new changes. Even Singapore is already seriously studying the opportunities and challenges posed by self-driving cars.

But what has the Hong Kong government done in this regard?

Absolutely nothing!

At a Legco meeting in 2014, I raised a question with government officials over the timetable on reviewing laws regulating dashboard displays.

The officials' then gave this answer: "We will make sure we keep abreast of the latest developments in car technologies."

Two years on, where is the progress?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 13 2016

Translation by Alan Lee


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