Has the new road law proved effective?

It was hailed as a revolution on Czech roads: a new points system that would reduce speeding, drink driving but above all the number of deaths on Czech roads, often described as the most dangerous in Europe. It is now exactly one year since the strict new road law was introduced - and we look at whether it has lived up to expectation.

A year ago the new law went into effect with a bang. Czech drivers -generally aggressive and inclined to taking risks - changed overnight, going at snail's pace and adhering strictly to regulations for fear of getting points in the dreaded points system. For the first time ever there was a serious danger of losing one's license - rack up 12 points and you lose your license for a year and have to take your driving test all over again. The first weekend produced stunning results - statistics showed the lowest number of deaths on the road in 18 years and the lowest number of accidents in ten years. In the course of July and August this happy state of affairs continued but drivers gradually lost their fear of reprisals and went back to their old ways. Here's how one driver assessed the impact of the law.

"In the course of the first month it really produced results. It was absolutely marvelous how things changed on the road. But you know how it is - there are ways of getting around everything and drivers soon lost their fear. So I'd say that the law is good but it needs to be enforced by the authorities."

Ivo Vykydal, photo: CTK
The police admit that this assessment is correct. After the first steep drop in the number of deaths and injuries things gradually returned to their former state of affairs - and even got worse. Deputy transport minister Ivo Vykydal looks at the statistics for the first quarter of this year:

"There is a drop in the number of accidents as compared to the same period last year - but that is the only positive point, the number of people killed is up by fifty-four as compared to the same period last year, the number of injured is up by fifteen and even the number of drink drivers is up by fifty."

In the course of that year over 1200 drivers got their drivers license confiscated and half a million drivers have at least one point for a serious offense. The most frequent offenses are still speeding and drink driving and the most frequent offenders are young men in fast cars aged between 19 and 23.

The new points system remains highly controversial, dividing both the public and politicians who have promised to assess its impact and if necessary amend it in a few years time. Ivo Vykydal is convinced that the law is good and that if it works in other European states there is no reason why it should not work here. He says it just needs to be properly enforced which requires more traffic policemen and better technology.

"The police could do with more technology. There are frequent road safety operations during which traffic police are out in force but far more effective are radars which monitor drivers within a given stretch. They work night and day and not only register traffic violations but document them."

Although the present road statistics are far from encouraging politicians want to give the police more time to get on top of the problem. Given the cost cutting measures that the government is implementing they know that there is only so much the police can do.