Police launch road safety campaign as accident statistics reach new heights

08-09-2003

Police across the Czech Republic began a nationwide campaign recently aimed at reducing the number of deaths and injuries on the roads. The country has one of the worst accident records in the world, with experts saying poor legislation - as well as poor driving - are to blame.

Rob Cameron joins me in the studio now - Rob, just how bad is the problem?

Very bad, if the statistics are to be believed. According to the Transport Ministry's figures, around 1,400 people die each year on the country's roads, which is an average of four per day. So far 762 were killed in the first seven months of this year. 159 were killed in July alone, making it the blackest month since 1989. Those figures mean the Czech Republic has the fourth highest number of road deaths in Europe - after Poland, Greece and Portugal - and something like the seventh highest number of road deaths in the world, depending on which statistics you look at.

Right, so what are the authorities doing about it?

Well due in part to a hell of a lot of coverage in the media over the summer (largely because there was little else going on), the police have recently launched a crackdown. Just walk around Prague and you'll see policemen virtually on every corner stopping cars. They've produced a road safety video called "Is it only idiots who crash?", which they've been handing out to errant drivers. But critics say the real problem is with the country's legislation.

You say legislation is the problem - what's wrong with Czech road safety laws?

Many things. I'll mention just one, and perhaps the most important one. Under a law passed three years ago, Czech police can no longer confiscate driving licenses from bad drivers. So if someone is stopped - even for such serious offences such as drink-driving or causing death by dangerous driving - the police have no legal mechanism to prevent that person getting back behind the wheel. Only a court can confiscate a driving licence, which can take months. Nobody can agree who's to blame for this. Critics say the Transport Ministry introduced the new rules; the ministry itself says it was MPs who amended the legislation without knowing what they were doing.

Right, so are they planning to change the law back again?

They are indeed. Under a new law to be presented to parliament this year, police will have the power to confiscate licences on the spot. There will also be a points system, so if a driver racks up certain number of points for speeding, he'll lose his license automatically. And there will be a number of other measures besides.

So we could see some improvement in the situation in a few years' time?

Maybe. Although some people say it's the drivers, not the laws, which are the real problem. It's very hard to change the culture of driving. Then again, it's not impossible. Remember that France was once famous for its appalling drivers and dizzying accident statistics. Not any more. The number of road deaths in France has actually fallen by something like a half since 1980, thanks to a concerted campaign by the French authorities. So it can be done. But not, I suspect, by merely handing out videos to bad drivers.

08-09-2003