July sees dramatic rise in number of deaths on Czech roads

Photo: CTK

A year ago new legislation introduced a points system for drivers, with the aim of improving the situation on Czech roads, where death rates were among the highest in Europe. For a while, it worked. The number of road deaths dropped dramatically in the first weeks and months, as drivers feared breaking the law would see them lose their licence. But one year later, many seem to have shrugged off such fears and are driving dangerously again.

Photo: CTK
For experts in road and traffic safety, as well as more cautious drivers on Czech roads, the news can only be disheartening: road deaths in the Czech Republic have once again risen dramatically. So far this July, 89 people have already died, up by 16 last year for all of July. Last week alone saw 32 people killed, so its not surprising images of crumpled cars and covered bodies were dominant in the media. On Tuesday I spoke to a number of car-users on Prague's streets to find out how they saw the situation:

Woman, late 50s

"It's a terrible situation, really terrible. This spring, my husband and I - who are pensioners - decided to sell our car because my husband decided he wasn't going to drive in Czech traffic anymore. Whenever new rules or laws are introduced, Czechs find a way a way of getting around them. I think it's typical of us, and something of a national sport."

Upset driver

"Those people... aren't people! They're not drivers! I was a driver by profession and I know: the situation is impossible!"

Man, 40s

"I drive everyday and there are definitely aggressive drivers out there. You see them speeding, changing lanes and passing where they shouldn't. Sometimes I get the feeling that many of them must have friends on the force, because even though we have a points system, these people still seem to remain on the road."

For their part, heads at Czech police have made clear they realise the current situation is unsustainable: deputy police president Ivan Bilek told the media that, as part of planned changes, police would be seen far more on Czech roads, not least in areas with deadly histories. It is hoped that a broader rethink and overhaul in the police force's approach could help quell the tragic number of deaths. On the other hand, a number of specialists - including road safety expert Vaclav Spicka of the Czech Autoclub - feel a greater police presence can only ever provide a partial solution. He points to further changes needed in existing legislation:

"The points system is of course an improvement, and we've seen its positive impact in other countries. But if you look at the way points are lost here, you see that you lose the most by slightly exceeding the speed limit. It makes no difference if you speed two kilometres or nineteen over the limit, the punishment and loss of points are the same. That is nonsense."

Meanwhile, not even repeated images of crashed vehicles on TV and in the press have seemed to jar dangerous and reckless drivers. Vaclav Spicka again:

"Some people react more to prevention, others to punishment, and you have to have both. But the fact is that the situation on the road reflects the situation in society as a whole. When you get new legislation, too few people look at how to obey the law, while too many try to find ways of getting around it. Drivers worry about losing their licences rather than considering they could lose their lives in an accident. In my view, greater prevention is what is needed but also the police need to target the heart of the problem: to go after truly aggressive drivers and to reduce factors leading to fatal accidents."