The unification of Hong Kong with Mainland China may have taken place back in 1997, but a lingering British problem remains: the city still drives on the left side of the road. That is now developing into a serious headache as post-1997 infrastructure developments bring the territory closer to the mainland, which drives on the right side of the road.
Hong Kong, in fact, bans vehicles with steering wheels on the left side (with the exception of government or authorized emergency carriers) from its roads, and that is having an impact on predictions over the amount of traffic expected to cross over from China to Hong Kong.
While Hong Kong’s vehicles with steering wheels on the right side can travel (with the addition of expensive to obtain dual license plates) to the mainland, the reverse is not true. That is now impacting massively expensive projects such as the US$3 billion Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, currently under construction, which is expected to transport 14,000 vehicles daily upon opening in 2016 to a capacity of 49,000 by 2035. It is being built to China’s right side standards, but the ends won’t match up either in Hong Kong or Macau, which is also left hand drive.
As things currently stand, those predictions over traffic volume are now being downgraded by 90 percent, leaving the bridge as a potential white elephant. Just 22,000 licenses have been granted in total to Hong Kong registered vehicles with right side steering wheels to travel to China.
Britain was the dominant global power when vehicle traffic started to take off in the early 1900s, and passed laws throughout its Empire at the time that traffic should drive on the left, with bidirectional traffic on opposite sides of the road. That is still the case in most of the Commonwealth, and remains so today in some ex-British colonies such as Hong Kong. In Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal, East Timor and Japan all drive on the left.
Globally, some 147 countries drive on the right, and 61 on the left, meaning the market for right hand drive vehicles is also considerably larger. However, permitting a large influx of Chinese driven vehicles into Hong Kong with the driver on the opposite side of the vehicle is potentially dangerous. Mainland Chinese businessmen are also becoming frustrated, unable to go to Hong Kong in their own chauffeur-driven limousines.
Hong Kong faces a choice over whether to keep traffic on the left side of the road and permit vehicles with steering wheels on the left, or to completely change its traffic system to accommodate mainland China. Macau faces the same problem.
The most common reason for countries to switch to right side traffic is for conformity with neighbors, as it increases the safety of cross-border traffic. For example, several former British colonies in Africa, such as Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ghana, have changed from driving on the left to the right because they all share extensive borders with former French colonies, which drive on the right. The former Portuguese colony of Mozambique continues to drive on the left, which is a legacy of its Portuguese past; even though Portugal itself changed over in the 1920s. Mozambique, though, continues to drive on the left because all its bordering countries do so.
China itself changed its traffic from the left side of the road to the right in 1946. Sweden was the last major European country to make the change back in 1967, which was implemented overnight and said to have cost millions of dollars even then. In 2009, Samoa changed from right-side driving to left-side, making it the first to change driving sides since Ghana did it in 1974.
A possible solution, other than for Hong Kong to end up with a massive changeover bill and a logistical implementation nightmare, is for a quota system to be introduced for mainland Chinese vehicles on Hong Kong’s roads. Mainland Chinese millionaires wanting to zip across for business in their mainland purchased Bentleys or Benzes may also find their drivers being required to sit for Hong Kong driving examinations to qualify for cross border driving differences.
This article was written for 2point6billion, which is contributed to by Dezan Shira & Associates who maintain and China.Dezan Shira are experts in , business establishment and tax. They also write for the website, China-Briefing.com.