LCQ14: Regulation of electric unicycles

Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (May 6):

Question: Some members of the public have relayed to me that on a number of occasions recently, they saw people riding electric unicycles on pavements and cycle tracks. It is learnt that some electric unicycles, after being charged for an hour, can travel 25 kilometres at a maximum speed of 16 kilometres per hour, and members of the public can purchase electric unicycles at certain shopping malls and online shopping web sites. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the interpretation of a "motor vehicle" under the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374) is "any mechanically propelled vehicle", whether an electric unicycle is a motor vehicle as defined by the Ordinance;

(2) of the respective numbers of cases in which the authorities issued verbal warnings to and instituted prosecutions against people who had contravened the relevant legislation for riding electric unicycles, as well as the number of traffic accidents involving electric unicycles, in the past two years;

(3) whether, in the past two years, the authorities looked into the sales situation of electric unicycles on the Internet and in the market, and whether the relevant government departments took any law enforcement actions; and

(4) whether it has found out which major world cities where it is legal to ride electric unicycles on the roads at present; given that due to their increasingly good quality and reasonable prices, light and convenient means of transport such as electric unicycles have become more popular worldwide, whether the authorities will make reference to the experience of the transport authorities overseas and consider amending the legislation to permit the use of light and convenient means of transport such as electric unicycles on the roads in Hong Kong subject to compliance with conditions such as specified safety requirements and speed restrictions; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply: President, My reply to the various parts of the Hon Frederick Fung's question is as follows:

(1) and (4) Electric unicycles are mechanically propelled. According to the Road Traffic Ordinance (Chapter 374) (the Ordinance), "motor vehicles" are defined as any mechanically propelled vehicles. As such, electric unicycles could belong to the category of "motor vehicles".

In order to be registered and licensed in Hong Kong, any motor vehicle must belong to a class of vehicles specified in Schedule 1 to the Ordinance. At present, electric unicycles do not belong to any of the classes of vehicles specified in Schedule 1, hence they cannot be registered and licensed.

Since the construction and operation of electric unicycles could pose danger to the users themselves and other road users, the Government has no plan at this stage to amend Schedule 1 to the Ordinance to permit the registration and licensing of electric unicycles.

As for the regulation of electric unicycles in other cities, generally speaking, overseas cities do not allow unregistered and unlicensed vehicles to be driven on roads. According to the preliminary information gathered by the Transport Department, it has not found any overseas cities specifying that electric unicycles can be used on roads.

(2) The Police do not keep any record on the number of verbal warnings issued and prosecutions made against driving electric unicycles on roads, nor traffic accident figures involving electric unicycles.

(3) There is currently no legislation in Hong Kong prohibiting the sale of electric unicycles on the Internet or in the market. Although electric unicycles cannot be registered and licensed (see the reply to Parts 1 and 4) and hence cannot be driven on roads, the Government is aware that electric unicycles can be used indoor or on other non-road places.

Ends/Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:45

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This is the typical response we see, again and again, with anything transport related. While some departments of the government are moving forward to be pro-active, the transport department stonewalls every new proposal. Seemingly, they need to be dragged kicking-and-screaming into the future, each time.

The reaction seems to always be (a) say it is unsafe, (b) say it contravenes the regulations, and (c) avoid the question of why this is permitted almost everywhere else in the world. Reactive thinking.

Such thinking leads to the result that the rear two optional child seats in a Tesla Model S are deemed illegal and not approved in Hong Kong (despite them being in the safest place for a child to be in the car, having a five point safety harness and special mountings and vehicle protection crumple zones especially designed for the protection of these occupants). They are unsafe and don't meet requirements. OK, but then why is it safe to have NO requirement for baby/child seats like in almost every other developed country around the world? It is unsafe to put your child in one of these 5 point harness seats, but safe to have it bouncing about on your lap?

It is unsafe to have a restricted web browser, but safe to have 10 mobile phones stuck on the dashboard. It was illegal to run out of electricity on the expressway, because electricity was not considered a fuel (even after electric vehicles have been around for more than 100 years). For years, we needed a special permit to drive an EV on the expressway, because it was never considered that EVs would ever be fast enough to be able to drive on the motorway?

The Transport Department needs to be pro-actively monitoring the development of transportation options around the world, and driving legislative change to keep up.