Driving in Hong Kong

Driving in Hong Kong



Rule of the Road

Traffic in Hong Kong drives on the left side of the road, because it was formerly a British Dependency. Being a Buddhist country, traffic in Hong Kong has traditionally travelled on the left for millennia, however, in 1850 Hong Kong codified the keep-left rule into law.



Statistics (year 2007 figures)

Hong Kong

UK comparison

Annual fatalities



Registered motor vehicles



Motorisation rate, (motor vehicles / 1,000 population)



Fatality rate, (deaths / 10,000 motor vehicles)



Fatality risk, (road deaths / 100,000 population)



Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)



Fatalities / 1,000 km road



Road length, km



Paved roads, %



Road density, (road length km / land area km2)



Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)



Population density, (population / km2)





Statistics Summary

Hong Kong has the second highest population density in the world, and although the motorisation rate is lower than the UK, the vehicle density is very high. Unfortunately, even after 155 years of British influenced discipline, the fatality rate, fatality risk, fatality quotient, and fatalities per kilometre are all very high.





Driving Environment

Hong Kong consists of a small peninsular off southern China, plus a couple of mountainous islands and many smaller islands. Hong Kong Island measures less than 15 km in any direction. The environment of Hong Kong is tropical, and is subject to seasonal monsoon rains and typhoons. Due to the mountainous terrain a significant proportion of the land is forested and unsuitable for human habitation, but much of the populated environment is that of a well-developed city with a vast number of high-rise buildings. Much of the road infrastructure is modern and reasonably-well engineered.



Driver Behaviour.

Drivers here are predominantly city drivers. The local culture encourages them to be reasonably courteous, and the density of traffic coupled with an efficient police force ensures that most are reasonably disciplined.






The vehicle stock is relatively new and comprises mostly Japanese and East Asian cars. Although a few European cars are seen these are typically luxury models. Buses are mostly 3-axle double deckers, although trams are very much favoured in Victoria, where there are 33 km of tram tracks. At night the trams display at their front only a single central headlight and smaller side position lights.



Speed Limits.

Speed is measured in km/h. Signage is reasonably good with sufficient signs. Speeds around residential and commercial areas are generally adequate, whilst on the highways appropriate limits are set to match the road quality. Speed limits are rigorously enforced, although the fines are not high.





Traffic Signals.

The sequence is the traditional 4 phase: green > amber > red > red & amber > green. At some major junctions where a higher speed limit is imposed a 5-phase sequence is in use having a flashing green after the steady green: green  > flashing-green > amber > red > red & amber > green.  This is to inform drivers that the green phase is ending to allow earlier braking.

Many signalised junctions also display a countdown timer showing the number of seconds to the end of that phase. Flashing amber is used for pelican crossings.



Road signs.

Regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, hazard, directional, and advice signs all follow the standard ISO (European) system. Worded signs are written dual language with English usually above Chinese. All signs with numbers, e.g. speed limits, distances, route numbers, parking time limits, are written using European digits only, so all are easily readable.





Road markings.

Both white and yellow are used. Many of the markings are exactly the same as in the UK, although zebra crossings are painted with yellow stripes. Some lanes are well marked as bus or tram lanes; bus lanes are typically by the footpath, but tram lanes are typically along the centre of the road. Unlike other countries, many of the multilane roads in the city are painted with double white lines to divide one lane from another, and at some places painted with prohibitive or permissive lines to show where lane changing is permissible or restricted, i.e. sometimes permitting a lane change e.g. from lane 2 to lane 3, but not lane 3 to lane 2. Such road markings are strictly enforced.





Kerb markings.

Kerbs themselves are not painted in Hong Kong, although the edge of the road is commonly painted with yellow lines similar to those in the UK, to display parking restrictions. At other places, typically adjacent to a central reservation a white boundary line is painted.




There are a number of smaller roundabouts in residential areas, and some mini roundabouts that are merely painted in the centre of the junction. Conventional signs and markings are displayed, and normal rules apply where the approaching traffic gives way to the circulating traffic.






Most intersections in the city are signal controlled due to volume of traffic and lack of space. However, on major highways where space permits in the city, and to Chep Lap Kok airport, grade-separated cloverleaf style junctions are used to maximise traffic flow.



Pedestrian Crossings.

Zebra crossings are common in Hong Kong and Kowloon, and in other towns. Tram stops in the centre of the road are normally served by a zebra crossing, although in some busier areas the tram stop is served by an overhead footbridge. The zebra crossings are typically very wide to allow maximum usage by pedestrians, and the stripes are in yellow paint.





Railway Crossings.

Hong Kong has just 2 rail routes, a new high-speed link to Chep Lap Kok airport, and the original route to Shenzhen in mainland China. This original route is now upgraded as a high speed link, and all the old former railway level crossings have been closed or re-engineered to be grade-separated, so there are now no railway level crossings in Hong Kong.




There are many high quality multilane roads in Hong Kong, typically of 3 lanes in each direction. These are all well engineered to good standards with slip-roads of adequate length, and restricted to prevent slower types of road user gaining access. Signage and markings are all good. Because of the short distances across Hong Kong and Kowloon, these roads do not have any service areas. Several highways run through tunnels, there are 3 tunnels beneath the harbour linking Hong Kong city to Kowloon, another linking the north and south of Hong Kong Island through the peak mountain, and several others beneath mountains in Kowloon.





City Driving.

Roads around the cities are typically multilane roads, with many one-way streets. The major parts of Hong Kong city and Kowloon are built on flat shore lines so roads are generally straight, but because much of the topography is mountainous, many residential roads snake around the contours of the mountainsides. Major junctions are all signal controlled, with roundabouts existing in residential areas.





Rural Roads.

There are quite a number of rural mountain roads around Hong Kong and Kowloon. The roads are cut along steep mountainsides, sometimes with several hairpin bends in places, and the sides of the roads are lined with dense forest. These roads are very pleasant to drive along, but don’t try to rush.



Night Driving.

Night driving is safe and easy in all built-up areas of Hong Kong. Street lighting is good everywhere, from main highways to residential areas. However, it may be best to avoid the rural mountainous roads at night, these roads are unlit, and whilst there are no large animals, there are a significant number of monkeys.






Parking can be difficult in Hong Kong. Spaces are at a premium everywhere. As an alternative, all the main centres are served by excellent public transport, including a very efficient underground metro system in Kowloon, the trams in the north of Hong Kong Island, ferries across the harbour, and a very good bus service everywhere.






Something to watch out for … trams. Watch where you interact with tram lanes, either driving along, or crossing, or merging at times, and some places where merging is not permitted and the number of lanes reduce. It may be obvious, but tram wheels are steel on steel rails, so they cannot steer and their stopping ability is not as good as a vehicle with rubber tyres. Don’t overtake a tram then steer onto its rails, then brake. And tram rails are quite slippery when wet, even for good rubber tyres.


©Keith Lane 2009