Politicians concede defeat in making Czech roads safer

A year after the introduction of a strict new road law that was meant to make Czech roads safer the authorities have had to admit defeat. The situation is as bad as ever and the number of road-related deaths has actually increased. Transport Minister Ales Rebicek says it is time to consider new measures.

Two weeks after the new law went into effect it was hailed as a revolution on Czech roads. The traffic police were out in force and drivers were on their best behavior. In that first week the police reported the lowest number of accidents in ten years and the lowest number of deaths in eighteen. Politicians jostled to take credit for what appeared to be nothing short of a miracle. But, within two months drivers had gone back to their old habits. Between January and August of last year 556 people were killed in road accidents. In the same period this year the number of casualties has risen to 735. The transport and interior ministers have agreed it is high time to introduce new changes.

Firstly, a third of all accidents involve trucks and the ministry wants to restrict their movement on Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, when Czech roads are at their busiest. Secondly, a vast number of speeding and drink driving accidents are caused by young people, fresh out of driving school. The ministry has suggested that inexperienced young drivers should get tougher sanctions than experienced drivers who have gone for years without causing an accident.

The system should be more benevolent to drivers who repeatedly make trivial offenses such as bad parking and much harder on those who repeatedly make serious ones, such as overtaking on dangerous stretches of the road, speeding and drink-driving, which are the most frequent causes of death on the road. Fines for such transgressions would also be much higher.

Originally politicians had promised to assess and revise the law with the intent of making it slightly more benevolent. But under the circumstances it may get even tougher. Plans to amend it have divided experts in the field. Some are pushing for change others say it is a complete waste of effort because the problem is not in the law but in the lack of law enforcement. The fact that the permanently understaffed traffic police has had to commission "plastic" police officers to place along the road as re-enforcements says it all. And the bad news is that the massive drain from the police force, following the enforcement of a new civil service law, is expected to continue. Until that unfortunate trend can be reversed Czech roads are likely to remain as dangerous as ever.