Czech NGOs discuss road safety with authorities

The Czech Republic has a very high record of road accidents, and unlike most other countries, the number is growing all the time. On Wednesday, several non-governmental organizations concerned with traffic safety called a round-table meeting with the police and transport authorities to discuss the trends as well as possibilities for improvement. Pavla Horakova was there.

Road safety is one of the areas where the Czech Republic still lags behind European Union standards. The statistics are shocking: the number of road accidents in this country is almost double the EU average, and the figure is even three to four times higher than in the EU if you compare traffic fatalities to the total length of roads in the country.

But you don't need statistics to realise that roads in the Czech Republic are simply not safe. Drivers don't always stop at pedestrian crossings - the new law says they must - they break the speed limit on a regular basis, go through red lights, drink and drive, and frequently take risks when overtaking. And usually there's not a traffic policeman in sight.

So several non-governmental organizations concerned with this state of affairs got together and called a round-table discussion on Wednesday. NGO activists met with traffic police officers, Transport Ministry representatives, experts from the Transport Research Centre and members of an organisation called "The Association of Traffic Psychologists" to try and come up with some solutions for the current situation.

One of the non-governmental organizations who feel something should be done to promote safety on the roads, and protect pedestrians and cyclists, is the group Prazske matky, or Prague Mothers. Jarmila Johnova spoke on behalf of the organization.

"Our organization is convinced that the safety of especially children walkers is on a bad level walkers and the right to walk is getting smaller and smaller. So we think that it is necessary to start a discussion, a social discussion about the right to walk for people, not only for children."

The Czech authorities have made some attempts to improve the situation. In 1997 a new traffic law reduced the speed limit in residential areas from 60 to 50 km/h. It was the first step towards harmonising Czech legislation with EU law. However, Czech drivers still break the speed limit - simply because there is no one to enforce it. But it's not just about the law - several speakers at Wednesday's meeting said road safety must start in the classroom - and Czech drivers must learn that driving safely is a social - and not just legal - obligation. Senator Jan Ruml, who opened the meeting, summed up his feelings: driving habits, he said, were symbolic of the cultural, moral and legal climate of the nation.