Too much of a good thing?

Czech roads are considered to be among the most dangerous in Europe: 1,200 people are killed in road accidents every year. The traffic police claim that this is largely due to undisciplined drivers and their own lack of clout in enforcing traffic regulations. But ask motorists to tell you their side of the story and you'll hear plenty of different arguments: poor road maintenance which makes them swerve unexpectedly to avoid potholes, overburdened highways and too many distractions in the form of road-signs, billboards and even memorial stones of people killed in an accident on a given spot.

Road signs are an essential part of road safety - and a valuable source of information - but put too many of them in row and you'll inevitably get the opposite effect. Drivers either ignore them or they miss the important ones in the maze of signs that fly past. On some stretches of the road drivers are expected to register and comply with as many as 36 road signs in the space of one kilometre. Vlasta Renova of the Prague based Transport Research Centre says that information-overload has become an increasing problem on many Czech roads:

"When you go past an alley of road signs it can lead to confusion as to what's vital, so when you are putting up road signs you really need to give the matter some thought and decide what's dispensable in the interest of safety and what really needs to be there. You need to respect how much the driver can "digest" because otherwise a dispensable road sign could make him overlook a vital one."

Where new road signs will be erected is a matter decided between the local authorities and the traffic police. And it must be said that they are extremely generous with them. Every year five to six thousand new road signs are commissioned and put up. Few get taken away. Vlasta Renova says the problem simply requires broader vision and better management of traffic in both rural and urban areas.

"Sometimes the authorities create this situation with the best of intentions. For instance on a stretch of the road that's potentially dangerous, they tend to add more and more signs so that drivers are forewarned. But that's often not a good solution."

Although the problem has been brought up in the Senate there doesn't seem to be a simple solution at hand. Everyone has something to tell drivers and the road is a good place to do it. So besides the glut of road signs drivers are alerted to the fact that they have the government to blame for the poor state of the road - thanks to a billboard campaign commissioned by an opposition politician, and the fact that they should maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of them - a road-safety campaign launched by the Transport Ministry.