Daily reports thousands of motorists lack valid licences

Almost two years ago the government introduced new legislation aimed at improving safety on Czech roads. A new points system and increased police vigilance at first made a positive impact on fatality numbers, but since then the number of accidents and related deaths has once again risen. All too often, too many drivers fail to obey the rules of the road. Worse, one daily has reported - citing transport ministry numbers - thousands of motorists in the country are failing to respect even the most basic of tenets: obtaining a driver’s license before getting behind the wheel.

“I don’t have a licence and it doesn’t matter” is how Mladá fronta Dnes sums up the situation of some Czech drivers on Czech roads. In the first four months of this year, almost 3,200 motorists were registered driving without a valid license. Two-thirds of those had never obtained one, either failing to take their exam, or even attending driving school, seemingly a minor detail which prevented none from heading onto the road. Václav Špička is a specialist in road legislation and safety at the Czech Autoklub:

“It’s terribly irresponsible and of course very dangerous and we have to look at who’s responsible. Often, cases involve either individuals from low-income brackets in older or beat-up vehicles or involve fairly young drivers under the influence of alcohol in stronger cars wanting to show off. In both cases, such drivers abuse the law where they can: that means driving on secondary or local roads where police controls are less common. Those are areas the law needs to focus on to have a greater impact.”

Up until 2006 driving without a valid license was classified only as a misdemeanour, but is now a criminal offence. Now, those who do, risk fines, jail time of up to one year, and in rare cases, the confiscation of their vehicle. But even such threats are not always enough. Václav Špička again:

“The problem is that there are a fair amount of drivers in the Czech Republic who just don’t take traffic laws seriously enough. And in some cases, those who thumb their nose at the law, drive fast, and get one past the police, are even considered heroic. I do think that stiffer sentences are part of a solution but can only go so far. Equally important is a proactive approach – information and educational programmes – to change how people behave. It should be understood that road safety laws are here to be obeyed.”

Most recently one judge sent a 30-year-old man to prison after he flaunted the law repeatedly: picked up early in the year, he was let off with a fine and driving ban because he had a young family at home. But he was soon caught again behind the wheel without a license and will now go behind bars for six months.