August 1st has brought into force an amendment to the road law which aims to simplify the penal points system in place by being more tolerant of minor offenses while increasing punishment for dangerous driving. The new measures are the second phase of a reform aimed at making Czech roads safer.
Photo: Barbora Kmentová
June of 2006 brought what was described as a revolution on Czech roads – a penal points system aiming to deal primarily with hazardous drivers and repeat offenders. Over those five years 33,000 Czech drivers had their drivers licenses confiscated as a result of the new law and the police have reported a drop both in the number of road deaths and serious accidents. However with over 750 road deaths in 2010 and close to 3,000 serious injuries that year the country still has a big problem.
The newly introduced amendment to the penal points system targets the main reasons behind the still high death toll – excessive speeding, drink driving and risky overtaking. While 17 lighter offenses have been dropped from the penal points system altogether and will now only be punishable by a fine, offenses considered a serious threat to road safety will get a higher number of penal points – excessive speeding and risky overtaking can get offenders five points out of an overall 12. Not using a safety belt –a frequent oversight - has seen an increase from two to three points in adults and four points if a child is found to be travelling without a safety belt.
Whether or not the new amendment should introduce some degree of alcohol tolerance in a nation of recognized beer lovers caused a stormy debate in Parliament. In the end the policy of zero-tolerance continues, although drivers with a low alcohol content in their blood –below 0,3 percent – will only be fined while those with anything above that stand to lose up to seven points.
A new measure which aims to target speeding is the removal of road signs alerting drivers to the presence of a police radar ahead. Although the police can still put up such signs at high risk stretches of the road as a preventative measure they will be able to use radars anywhere. Exceeding the speed limit by up to five kilometres in municipalities and by up to ten on the highway can be punished by a fine of up to 2,500 crowns, anything above that is punishable by the loss of up to five points.
If they are dubious regarding the technical state of a vehicle traffic police can order a driver to get an immediate check up on condition that a facility providing the service is located no further than 4 kilometres away.
And the amendment has finally addressed another problem plaguing traffic police – the notorious road races. While in the past Czech police had little clout in dealing with the matter which was in sharp contrast with the state of affairs in neighbouring Germany for instance, now even the mere suspicion that a driver is taking part in such a road race can result in the confiscation of the respective vehicle for up to 48 hours.
The basic rule remains: on getting 12 points a driver is stripped of his or her license for a year and needs to undergo psychological assessment tests to get it back. On the other hand a year free of transgressions will make them eligible to get four points deleted. In the past 5 years that the penalty points the system has been in force over 33,000 drivers were stripped of their license, of those 1720 were women. Eighty percent of those who got penalized got penalized only once. 5.8 million drivers still have a clean record.