Czech Republic reduces drink-driving deaths

The Czech Republic has made the most progress in reducing drink-driving deaths in Europe, according to a report just published by the Brussels-based European Transport Safety Council. This is the first sign of real improvement on Czech roads, which many people consider to be among the most dangerous in Europe.

Ask any Czech about road traffic in the Czech Republic and they will raise their eyes to heaven. Speeding, drink driving, congested roads and bad road maintenance are among the most frequent complaints. However comparative statistics indicate that concerted efforts by the traffic police to bring about an improvement are bearing fruit. While in countries such as Britain, Finland Hungary and Spain, the number of drink-driving fatalities has risen, in the Czech Republic it has steadily declined in the last decade. According to the ETSC report, the number of fatalities in alcohol related accidents decreased by more than 50 percent between 1996 and 2005. Alcohol now causes "only" 4.4 percent of all deaths on the road. What has brought about this improvement in the last decade? Jaroslav Heinrich is from the Brno-based Centre for Traffic Research.

"There are basically two main reasons for this positive development. The first is that we have had zero alcohol tolerance on the road for decades and secondly traffic officers perform random tests on Czech roads and we know that not all EU countries do this."

With under 1,000 deaths on its roads in 2006, the Czech Republic has markedly reduced its accident rate. Still there is much room for improvement. Sweden, for example, with just a million people fewer than the Czech Republic, reported only 49 fatalities last year.

So if drink driving is not responsible for deaths on the road what is? The answer is speeding. According to statistics, speeding is now the number one killer on Czech roads. There's nothing wrong with the set limits - there's a 50 km speed limit in urban areas, 90 on rural roads and 130 on motorways, which experts consider adequate. The problem lies in poor law enforcement, and the traffic police have now focussed their attention on this, installing more monitoring devices and regularly holding big road safety operations during which traffic police are out in force around the country. Last year the Czech Republic also introduced strict new road legislation with tough penalties for both speeding and drink-driving. So the only remaining problem in the way of further improvement is the lack of traffic officers. Ever since 2003 the Interior Ministry has requested more funds from the government for this purpose and been repeatedly turned down. The present government is likewise affecting cost cutting measures where it can and, paradoxically, the latest report from the European Transport Safety Council, is not likely to help the case.