Transport minister wants fines for speeding to be pegged to personal wealth

Vít Bárta, photo: CTK

The country’s transport minister, Vít Bárta, has set off new debate over how to clamp down on dangerous drivers: the idea – floated at the weekend – is that speeding fines in the Czech Republic could be pegged to motorists’ personal wealth, similar to systems in currently in place in Finland or Switzerland. The threat of high fines would theoretically lead owners of powerful luxury cars - who currently ignore speed limits - to think twice.

Vít Bárta,  photo: CTK
Earlier this year, a driver in Switzerland made world headlines after being slapped with a 228,000 euro fine for speeding in his Ferrari; and just this month a visiting Swede was caught for the same offence and could face a fine of almost 800,000. Swiss law, changed in 2007, made that possible, something that if Czech Transport Minister Vít Bárta has his way, could also been seen here. At the weekend he floated the idea that speeding fines in the Czech Republic – like in Switzerland or Finland – could be tied to personal income, and he said that such a system would prevent young, rich and arrogant drivers from making Czech roads a Wild West.

Leoš Tržil
The idea immediately got support from some traffic specialists as well as the police, who would welcome a toughening of the law. They agree – and at least one study has suggested - that drivers of more expensive luxury or performance cars in the country have a greater tendency to display arrogance on the road and flout speed limits. Traffic Police head Leoš Tržil told Czech TV that many drivers simply feel they “can do whatever they want”.

But at this stage it is not at all clear if initiative will get off the starting blocks. For one, the plan is only in the very earliest of stages – with an independent study having only just been commissioned. Secondly and more importantly, not all those within the coalition support it and some are dead-set against.

Petr Nečas
At the weekend, Prime Minister Petr Nečas wasted no time slamming the idea, saying he could not imagine the police dialling up information about individual’s personal income and wealth; he even likened the move to a step taken by an authoritarian regime, catching the transport minister off guard.

Since then Minister Bárta has begun to backtrack, suggesting that the cost of the vehicle could be one of the more dominant factors in the plan (as opposed to overall income) but that too is being seen as highly questionable given that the cost of a single vehicle is hardly a reliable indicator.

There is also concern that the proposal could simply be unconstitutional, infringing on the principle of equal treatment before the law. So, from the outset, pegging speeding fines to personal income will be far from easy. The minister has defended himself by saying that thinking out of the box is just as important as cutting spending under the government’s austerity plans. And he still plans to push ahead with a concrete proposal by the end of the year.