Traffic and road safety bill hits hurdle - again

04-08-2005

Czech roads have one of the worst reputations in Europe thanks to an appalling number of road accidents and related fatalities every year. Although legislators have now spent almost two years trying to agree on an overhaul in legislation improving the situation, they're not quite there yet.

Czech legislators don't have to tune in to the TV at night to know that the number of accidents on Czech roads is unacceptable: almost 200, 000 car accidents - more than 1,400 of them fatal - last year. But, doing something about it has not proven easy. A new amendment package on the law on traffic and road safety - including the introduction of a demerit point system - hit hurdles in the Senate on Wednesday. After debating the issue for hours, senators ultimately sent the proposal back to the Lower House, with added amendments.

What amendments have they called for - and what could be the impact? To find out we spoke with Vaclav Spicka, from Czech Autoclub, a civic association dealing with road safety and Czech motoring in general.

"One of the recommendations that senators made was postponing the bill from becoming law until January 1st, 2007, six months later than previously proposed. The impetus is that drivers need a longer buffer period to get used to the new legislation, but we think that the original date was sufficient. There's no point in delaying legislation that could significantly improve the situation on Czech roads. Also, as an EU member the Czech Republic has pledged to cut the number of road deaths by half by 2010. To meet such a target we need to implement the legislation. "

Much is expected from the point system, which Vaclav Spicka says has been proven, time and again, to have an overwhelmingly positive effect.

"Without question point systems work. The numbers show that road accidents and deaths have fallen substantially in countries implementing their use."

But, in other areas says Vaclav Spicka, sending the bill back makes sense. The original bill banned heavy trucks, for instance, from overtaking on motorways. There, senators were right, says Spicka, in making the change.

"Categorically banning trucks from passing on motorways would have blocked traffic significantly. Our opinion is that either additional lanes should be added, obviously an expensive option, or that the problem should be dealt with locally: that overtaking should be banned only in areas where it's clearly dangerous. In this respect, the Senate was right."

The question now is whether sending the bill amendment back to the Lower House ultimately hasn't put it at jeopardy. In many ways it would be a disaster, Vaclav Spicka suggests, if the bill now failed to go through.

"There is a real possibility that the bill could fail in the Lower House, if MPs were absent, failing to guarantee a majority. It's impossible to imagine that the Transport Ministry would put forward an alternative before elections next year."

04-08-2005