Czech roads see lowest number of fatalities since 1947

2011 saw vast improvement in the number of road deaths, dropping to 695. That is the lowest number since the late 1940s, although then there were only some 128,000 thousand registered vehicles on Czech roads compared to around four million today. Experts suggest that a number of factors have contributed to the continuing drop in road fatalities.

I spoke to road safety specialist Robert Šťastný:

“I think that this is the result of the last 10 years of developments in improving Czech road safety. Under the former transport minister, Milan Šimonovský, a new approach was chosen and I think the result has been a combination of several aspects: police enforcement, awareness activities, infrastructure improvements such as new highways and also an improvement in medical services and response. Finally, the vehicles on Czech roads today feature more and more safety systems.”

You mentioned several factors there: is there a primary change, do you think, that had the greatest effect? I am thinking of the points system that was introduced in 2006...

“I do think that the points system, connected with police activity, have shown results. 2006 was a very positive year and the penalty points system has been in effect since, so it’s something drivers, especially those who have already lost points, have become more careful over.”

At this point is it safe to say that the drop in numbers – which has been consistent over the last number of years – is a trend?

“I hope so but for it to be maintained a lot will depend on government policy into the future. This year the cabinet passed a new strategy on road safety and the ambition is to halve the number of road deaths again over the next 10 years. I believe that it will be better and it has to be: you have to consider that the situation here is still poor compared to other EU countries including Germany but also Austria and Belgium.”

A lot of people also pointed to a past campaign entitled Nemyslíš, zaplatíš (If you don’t think, you’ll pay the price) which introduced fictional but brutal scenes of traffic accidents: do you think that was effective in getting people to drive more safely?

“I think that it was effective because it was psychological. It made viewers think about what was going on and to try and change.”

Reportedly, although the overall number of fatalities on roads went down this year, paradoxically they went up under what one would normally describe as ‘ideal’ conditions: well-lit and dry city roads. How do you explain that?

“Bad weather or lots of snow may actually see fewer serious accidents because a lot of drivers will be more careful. But if the road is dry in winter it’s still dangerous: the braking distance is longer and so on. Rural roads can be dangerous too. Psychologically motorists may think it’s safe and they speed.”

So basically drivers shouldn’t be lulled by a false sense of security, even though the weather has been milder...

“Yes, of course.”