Rarely does a new law cause so much controversy and yet have so much of an impact. A new points system for driving offences went into effect at the weekend with stunning results - the lowest number of deaths on the road since 1988, and the lowest number of accidents in ten years. That is clearly good news. But, despite this, the new transport law which has caused a minor revolution of Czech roads may not survive in its present form.
It was a weekend like no other - the police were out in force and Czech drivers were on their best behaviour. Thirty-three year old Radim Dvorak says his morning drive through the Czech capital was a whole new experience:
"I cannot remember a slower journey though Prague - ever. I kept to the 50 km speed limit in town and not a single car overtook me. That is unheard of. You could tell that they were scared. You break the speed limit by just a few kilometers and you lose points and get a two thousand crown fine /the equivalent of almost 100 US dollars/. So you take great care not to let that happen."
The new points system for driving offences is extremely tough by Czech standards. Rack up twelve points and you lose your license for a year and then have to take your driving test all over again. Unlike in the past, the traffic police can now confiscate your driver's license on the spot for a serious offense and the fines are extremely steep. All this has made Czech drivers - generally aggressive and inclined to taking risks - slow down and exercise caution. The results speak for themselves: 10 lives spared in one weekend alone - compared to the same period last year. And the lowest number of accidents in ten years.
Yet, despite the encouraging statistics, the future of the law is in question. The centre-right Civic Democrats say it is excessively strict and are calling for its amendment. And although the Social Democrat-led government is responsible for introducing it - Social Democrat Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek himself is now back-pedaling. He agrees with the Civic Democrats that the law is too strict in that one could end up losing one's license over a series of trivial offences. In fact Mr. Paroubek went so far as to say that the fines were too high for Czech salaries, adding that offenders could be "amnestied" until the respective correction had been made. At Monday's Cabinet meeting he asked the transport and interior ministers to consider possible changes:
"There are conflicting views on this law and I have asked the interior and transport ministers to try and find common ground by next Monday and then we will take things from there."
The Christian Democrats, whose transport minister Milan Simonovsky put forward the new law, are arguing that a sudden about-turn would immediately counteract all the benefits that the new law has brought about. And they are suggesting that the impact of the new legislation should be assessed after a longer period of time. As far as minister Simonovsky is concerned the legislation could in time be made even stricter, as was the case in France, Austria or Ireland.