If anyone in the Czech Republic thought they could get away with having a few beers before getting behind the wheel, those times are largely over. On July 1st, new road safety legislation comes into effect - and with it stiffer penalties for drunk drivers.
In the past Czech police often could only wring their hands in the case of drunk drivers caught behind the wheel - at most it took repeated infractions, or causing a serious accident, to bring offenders to court. Anyone thinking of drinking at the wheel as of July 1st, should be warned. From now on 0.8 percent blood alcohol level will mark the threshold between misdemeanour and crime - and stiffer penalties. On Wednesday the head of the country's traffic police, Zdenek Bambas, announced that under the new approach any drivers testing for the equivalent of two or three beers could even potentially face prison time of up to one year. In his words: more than 0.8 percent behind the wheel will now "always be treated as a crime" and the important thing to notes is that, that applies even if a driver has not caused an accident or injury, even if he or she is a first-time offender. Only those drivers with less than 0.8 will be somewhat "safer" off - their decision to drive under the influence is to be treated as a misdemeanour.
Will the new legislation have an effect? Most certainly hope so: since the 1990s Czech drivers and Czech road safety have suffered the poorest of reputations, with an alarmingly high number of accidents and road deaths per year, many alcohol-related. Until now, poor legislation left officers' hands tied, even in the most flagrant of cases - many can recall, for example, media reporting on inebriated drivers who wrapped their cars around telephone poles but walked away unscathed, their licence in their back pockets. Under the new legislation, police will now be able to step in and not only test those they suspect of drunk-driving, but to confiscate licences on the spot. Markedly, that also applies in cases where suspects refuse to take a breathalyser or medical test.
So, as of next week the message is clear: the law against drunk drivers in the Czech Republic will get tougher. It is to be hoped that those who ignored public safety and common sense in the past, will now think twice before drinking at the wheel.