12 Things to Know About Traffic Offences and Accidents in Hong Kong
If you drive any kind of vehicle in Hong Kong, your odds of being involved in some kind of traffic case, just went up, a lot.
The latest Hong Kong Police figures show a sharp 20% increase in the number of traffic enforcement cases in 2021, and with Transport Department figures recording just over 2.3 million registered driving licence holders in February 2021, drivers need to be very aware of what it could mean for them.
While most cases involve minor issues like fixed penalty tickets, others could be far more serious involving car collisions, injury, or death.
If anyone is unfortunate enough to be involved in anything from a parking ticket to a major car accident, how to deal with it can make a major difference to the outcome.
In this article Timothy Wan, senior associate lawyer from Haldanes’ criminal defence department, provides answers to some of the key questions for a driver involved in any type of traffic offence, what to expect in a police investigation and how to deal with court proceedings. And above all, what not to do.
Key Points on Traffic Accidents and Offences
- If you are involved in a traffic accident, you must stop, provide details about yourself, the vehicle owner and the vehicle registration, and report the accident to the police within 24-hours at the latest unless incapable of doing so.
- You have the right to remain silent except for providing the information above (1).
- Police must verbally caution you if you are arrested and explain what you are being arrested for.
- For most minor traffic offences you will be given bail.
- You should obtain legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
Frequently Asked Questions About Traffic Accidents and Offences
- If a driver is involved in a traffic accident, does the driver have to stop?
- Does a driver have to give information to anyone?
- Does a driver have to report the accident?
- How do police handle investigations?
- Can a person be arrested?
- What happens if a person is arrested?
- Will Bail be given?
- What happens in court?
- Does a driver need to hire a lawyer?
- What should a person do if he or she receives a traffic summons to attend Court?
- Is there any time limit for the police to lay information for traffic summonses?
- Is there a legal duty to inform the insurer of the vehicle about an accident?
1. If a driver is involved in a traffic accident, does the driver have to stop?
Yes, the law states a driver involved in an accident has the duty to stop the vehicle if:
- Personal injury is caused to another person.
- Injury is caused to an animal. The law has a list of specific animals which includes cats and dogs, and various farm animals like sheep, cattle, pigs and goats. To be safe, you have to stop if you hit an animal.
- Damage is caused to any other vehicle or property.
2. Does a driver have to give information to anyone?
The vehicle driver has a duty to provide his or her name and address, the name and address of the vehicle owner if it is not the same, and the vehicle registration or identification number to any police officer or to any person having reasonable grounds for requiring the information.
Practically speaking, “any person having reasonable grounds for so requiring” usually means other drivers or road users involved in the accident and the police.
3. Does a driver have to report the accident?
If an accident involves damage to another vehicle or property or injury to one of the specified animals, and the driver for some reason is unable to provide the required information to another person, the driver must report the accident in person to the nearest police station or to any police officer as soon as reasonably possible, or at least no later than 24-hours afterwards.
An example of this might be if a driver is involved in a collision with a parked car late at night and no one else is around to give details to. Simply leaving a note with the required details is not an option. Offences like this must be reported to the police.
For accidents involving personal injury, the driver must report the accident in person at the nearest police station or to any police officer as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than 24-hours afterwards.
The only exception is if the driver has also been injured and is incapable of reporting.
4. How do police handle investigations?
The traffic branch of the Hong Kong Police Force is responsible for investigating traffic offences.
Police may make initial enquiries at the scene of the accident, including questioning drivers and witnesses, taking photographs of the scene and collecting any relevant evidence from the scene.
It is common for drivers to provide all necessary information to assist the police investigation, particularly in minor accidents.
However, if a driver is uncertain whether the answers will expose the driver to risks of any criminal or traffic offences especially in more serious accidents, the driver has the right to remain silent to all questions, except those required under a driver’s duty to provide particulars, namely to provide the driver’s name and address, the name and address of the vehicle owner if it is not the same, and the vehicle registration or identification number.
In our experience, police will often record a driver’s answers in a prosecution witness statement, which can be given as evidence in Court.
5. Can a person be arrested?
This normally applies to more serious traffic offences like causing death by dangerous driving or driving while under the influence of alcohol (commonly known as “Drink Driving”).
In these cases, a police officer may decide to arrest the driver at the scene of the offence. If they do, the officer must clearly inform the driver of the offence they are suspected of having committed and must issue a verbal caution – “You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so, but whatever you say will be put into writing and may be given in evidence.”
Again, it is important to note that a person has the right to choose whether or not to answer any question, except for providing the so-called “Requisite Particulars” about names, addresses and registration.
6. What happens if a person is arrested?
After an arrest, police may take a cautioned statement in written form or conduct a video-recorded cautioned interview, for more serious traffic offences.
Before taking any statement or conducting a cautioned interview, the police will verbally inform the person of the rights and present the person with a written copy of the “Notice to Persons in Custody,” which the person will be asked to sign to confirm that he or she has received it and that the person understand the rights outlined in the notice.
Again, it is important to note that the person has the right to choose whether or not to answer any question posed by the police, except of course the requisite questions mentioned earlier.
7. Will Bail be given?
For most traffic offences involving an arrest, the police will usually grant bail.
Generally speaking, this will require the driver to report to a police station near the accident scene every four weeks, pending the completion of the police investigation.
If following their investigation, the police decide to lay charges, this will be done at a police station and bail will normally be extended until the first court date.
The person will be given a copy of the charge sheet which includes the name of the officer in charge of the case, the name of the charging officer, time and date of the charge, the person’s name, statement of the alleged offence, and particulars of the alleged offence.
However, it is possible for serious traffic offences, for example, involving multiple casualties, bail may not be granted.
In that case, the person will be kept in police custody until formally charged and taken to a Magistrates’ Court for a mention hearing. This must be done by the police within 48 hours of the arrest at the latest.
8. What happens in court?
At the first mention hearing in Magistrates’ Court, the prosecution will either inform the magistrate that they are ready to proceed with the case, or will ask for more time if needed for their investigation.
The prosecution, in more serious cases, may apply for an adjournment to give them time to prepare the paperwork needed to transfer the case to a higher court.
It is also common for a defence lawyer to ask for an adjournment to allow time to prepare and collect all the prosecution material.
At the first mention hearing, the defence lawyer also has the opportunity to make a bail application on behalf of the defendant. The court will decide whether to grant bail and on what conditions.
9. Does a driver need to hire a lawyer?
As traffic cases are fact-specific and may have criminal and/or civil implications, it is important to seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
Having the proper advice and guidance at the initial stages of the investigation could make a remarkable difference to the outcome of the case.
10. What should a person do if he or she receives a traffic summons to attend Court?
The person should attend the Court hearing at the specified date and time as stated in the Summons.
The Summons will set out the name, address, Hong Kong Identity Card number, gender and age of the recipient.
It also includes the location, time and date of the alleged offence, the date, time and venue of the Court hearing.
11. Is there any time limit for the police to lay information for traffic summonses?
In the case of a minor offence, for example, Careless Driving, the information must be laid within six months from the time when the alleged offence was committed.
In case of a more serious, indictable, offence, there is no time limit for the information to be laid.
12. Is there a legal duty to inform the insurer of the vehicle about an accident?
There is no legislation in Hong Kong which imposes a duty for drivers to inform the insurer of a vehicle about an accident.
However, if a person intend to claim damages under the policy, most vehicle insurance companies require vehicle owners to report an accident to the insurer within a specified time frame. Otherwise, the insurer may not accept the claim.
(Read More: You can read the full Road Traffic Ordinance here.)
If you need help or wish to speak to one of our lawyers, contact us now.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.