A recent complaint posted on social media has raised concerns over the numbers of mainland Chinese directly converting their driving licences into full local licences. As record numbers apply, local drivers have raised safety concerns whilst the UK has stopped allowing Hong Kong licences to be converted directly into British ones.
Mainland Chinese driving licence holders can currently apply for “direct issue” in Hong Kong – meaning a full local driving licence can be obtained without taking an extra driving test. It has been the case since Hong Kong and China signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement in 2003.
A spokesperson for the Transport Department told HKFP that between 2007 and September 30 this year, 187,900 applications were approved.
A post on Facebook in early October showed the busy licensing office of the Transport Department in Admiralty has prompted fresh debate. It read: “The Transport Department has been occupied for so long… I thank the silent majority for remaining silent [and] boosting the speed of integration between China and Hong Kong.”
Currently, applicants for direct issue of Hong Kong full driving licences need to present documents such as their Hong Kong identity cards, overseas driving licences, passports, address proof issued within the last 3 months and a medical examination report to licensing offices.
The Transport Department told HKFP that it “exercises due prudence” in vetting applications.
“In verifying the authenticity of the applicant’s overseas/Mainland driving licence and other supporting documents, we will seek clarification/confirmation with the mainland and the respective overseas consulate or transport authorities on doubtful cases… If necessary, these cases may also be referred to the police for investigation,” it said.
Jacky Lim, a transport policy commentator, told HKFP that “China did not sign the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, wherein signatory countries must recognise the legality of vehicles from other signatory countries. Also, the issue of driving licences is an internal affair of Hong Kong according to the Basic Law.”
“So, it is absolutely reasonable and appropriate for the Transport Department not to recognise Mainland Chinese driving licences.”
UK licence loophole
The policy has also caused problems abroad.
A Hong Kong person requested help from lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai in April 2013 after he found that he was unable to apply for a direct issue of a UK licence using his Hong Kong licence. He told Fan that he was requested to prove that he took his driving test in Hong Kong and to show that the licence was not issued in Mainland China.
In 2012, the BBC reported that some drivers had obtained UK driving licences through agents in London using Hong Kong licences without taking UK driving tests. The original applications were found to be using fraudulent details as proof of address in Hong Kong.
Between 2010 and 2012, nearly 13,000 Hong Kong licences were swapped for UK ones.
UK Member of Parliament Louise Ellman, who chairs the UK Parliament’s Commons Transport Select Committee, told the BBC that it “means people’s lives may be at risk and it is an extremely disturbing situation – it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
The loophole was closed in 2013 – Hong Kong driving licences can no longer be used for direct issue of UK licences.
Inconvenience to Hong Kong People
Gary Fan said that, after the 2013 incident, the policy to directly issue Hong Kong driving licences without a test should be reviewed, as “it caused inconvenience when Hongkongers travel or live abroad.”
Jacky Lim said that “The Transport Department has not enforced the law and investigated the cases at all. If they had checked the licence holders well enough, why would it be a problem for foreign countries?”
He added that the current approved licences should not be automatically extended when they expire: “The Chinese government does not have any right to question why Mainland China licence holders are not given Hong Kong driving licences.”