Transport legislation evokes controversy

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Few laws evoke as much public interest and controversy as the one now being discussed by Czech politicians. The final version of the new transport law will affect every single inhabitant of this country--be they drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians. The Senate ended a long and heated discussion on the issue on Thursday, and sent the bill back to the lower house with a number of important amendments. Daniela Lazarova has the details:

One of the most controversial aspects of the proposed law was the requirement that every car passenger shorter than one and a half metres must be strapped into a child's car seat. A number of vertically-challenged drivers protested immediately, and the Senate ruled their protests were indeed valid. The upper house now wants the regulation to apply only to children under the age of 18.

Senators also moved to soften the impact of a regulation demanding that all cyclists wear helmets, suggesting that it be applied only for children under the age of 15. "The idea that an elderly lady hopping onto her bike would have to put on a helmet to get to Sunday mass at the village church is ludicrous," one senator pointed out. "This law should predominantly protect children, grown-ups should be allowed to take care of their own safety." There is also the assumption that if children get used to safety precautions they'll continue taking them later in life.

There's good news for pedestrians, however. Their position on the road should improve, since both MPs and Senators agree they should always enjoy right-of-way on zebra crossings. The law as it stands now urges mutual consideration, which is confusing and in some cases downright dangerous. So, prepare to be more assertive in future, but within reason.

Another frequently discussed issue is the use of headlights in daylight. While the lower house was in favour of a hard-and-fast rule in favour of headlights at all times, the Senate has again voted in favour of a milder regulation; Senators want lights to be compulsory day and night during the winter months, but not necessarily during the summer. "We want to implement safety precautions but still remain within the bounds of common sense" one senator explained.

For some people the proposed laws are still too tough. Parents with more than two young children argue that they can't fit more than two child-seats into the back of their car. Others argue they can't afford them and parents who take turns driving several local kids to youth clubs and sports stadiums point out that the law would put them in an impossible situation. Sports coaches and heads of afterschool classes have joined the protests, pointing out that the law is too restrictive and will affect many kids. On the other hand traffic police say it could save a dozen young lives each year. It remains to be seen which argument the lower house will decide is more convincing.