More fatal accidents at pedestrian crossings

The number of traffic accidents involving pedestrians at pedestrian crossings has risen dramatically since last year. In January the Czech Parliament passed a new law, granting pedestrians the right of way at crossings, in an attempt to make Czech roads safer for those on foot. The law, which forms part of a broader overhaul in Czech traffic legislation, was designed along similar models that have been applied with positive results in other European countries. As Jan Velinger reports, the situation on Czech roads appears to have gotten worse.

It seems clear now that in the last ten months many Czech motorists have largely failed to adjust to changes in the traffic laws, which on paper at least, should have ensured greater safety for pedestrians this year. In practice, the numbers so far have been grim: 15 pedestrians killed in the period from January till August, up from just 3 in the previous year. The number of seriously injured has also increased, totaling a number of 103. Vaclav Spicka, a member of the Bohemia Auto Klub who has monitored the situation extensively, believes the problem is manifold. In his view, traffic control is not taken seriously enough by the state, and he believes that the situation on Czech roads has been complicated by the fact that the new laws introduced changes in the jurisdiction rights of the police. Under the law, they no longer retain the authority to confiscate drivers licences, even at the scenes of serious accidents - that responsibility now falls to local municipalities, which Mr. Spicka believes, dilutes the role of punishment as an overall deterrent. Yet a deterrent is sorely needed, since Mr. Spicka believes the attitude towards driving in the Czech Republic, leaves much to be desired.

"Driving in the Czech Republic has many peculiarities. Elsewhere drivers practice defensive driving, and are generally respectful of each other, as well as being more respectful towards cyclists and pedestrians. In the Czech Republic we don't drive, we race. Speed limits are not respected, and it is common in the pub to brag about how fast one made it to Brno, or elsewhere, how one pulled a fast one on the police. Every driver should remember that they too occasionally get out of their cars, and become, themselves pedestrians... In terms of approaching pedestrian crossings , our drivers do not pay enough attention to the traffic signs, and find themselves stopping too late. Worried they will be hit from behind, they rather drive through."

And so we return to pedestrian crossings, and should we cross at all ? While many drivers should evidently rethink attitudes toward the road, it must be added that some of the blame in the rise of this year's accidents, lies with Czech pedestrians themselves. Above all, they should not mistake mistaking their right of way at crossings as absolute, and ignoreg such obvious factors as the speed and distance of approaching vehicles.

"Pedestrians should realise that vehicles can not come to a dead stop. They have a certain breaking zone. If pedestrians step into the road too late, they create problems for the driver, and risk injury for themselves."

How the situation will evolve must remain to be seen. If the Czech Republic's neighbors can be taken as an example, the new traffic law in the Czech Republic will eventually yield results.