DRIVERS who ignore the speed limit or drive while intoxicated on Slovakia's roads will pay heftier fines next year.
Exceeding the speed limit by more than 50 kilometres per hour might cost the hurrying drivers as much as Sk20,000 (€593) once the revision to the road traffic act goes through the parliament.
The new legislation is designed for all decent drivers and should increase safety and smooth traffic on the country's roads, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák told the press after his ministry submitted the draft for an inter-departmental review.
Eventually, police will only deal with road accidents that cause injuries, death or damages higher than Sk160,000 (€4,750), while all other cases will be handled either by an agreement between the drivers or through insurers, according to the ministry.
Drivers will also have to keep their headlights on all year round, not only during the winter season between October 15 and March 15, as is currently required. And they will be obliged to use winter tires whenever the roads are covered by snow or ice, the Interior Ministry announced at a press conference.
The toughest fine a driver would face is Sk30,000 (€890) and a two-year ban from driving. Drivers who are not able to pay the fines on the spot will have to hand over their driver's license to the police and receive a temporary driver's certificate valid for 15 days, within which they must pay the fine. They also have the option of paying the fine by community service.
In order to eliminate traffic jams, vehicles weighing more than 7.5 tonnes will not be allowed to use first-class roads and motorways on Fridays, weekends or public holidays. They will also be barred from such roads on days immediately before public holidays between 14:00 and 20:00.
The draft legislation pushes the minimum speed on motorways from 60 to 80 km/h, while the maximum speed for trucks on motorways will increase from 80 to 90 km/h. It also reduces the speed limit in towns and villages from 60 km/h to 50 km/h.
The draft also bans eating, drinking, smoking and using cell phones while driving a car in order to increase road safety.
The changes could contribute to Slovakia's goal of making roads safer, but having a legislative measure alone is not enough, said the head of the Žilina-based Transport Research Institute, Ľubomír Palčák.
There is still a long way to go to reduce fatal road accidents by half by 2010, as the country's Council for Road Safety recommends, and it requires education, transportation management and intelligent transportation systems, Palčák told The Slovak Spectator.
The institute said that reducing the speed limit in towns and villages is crucial for road safety.
"The lower speed limit, in fact, reduces the braking and reaction distance by nine metres, which in many cases can save lives," Palčák said. "In a collision between a car and a pedestrian or cyclist, this reduction can increase a person's chances for survival by 40 percent."
As for the use of winter tires when there is a layer of snow on the road, Palčák said the problem might be with how the law will be interpreted and who would define when the road conditions require winter tires. He prefers giving a concrete time period during which cars have to drive with winter tires.
Banning trucks from first-class roads and motorways during the weekends will not be a major limit to Association of Road Transport Operators (ČESMAD) members, the group's general director, Pavol Reich, told The Slovak Spectator.
However, the organisation will definitely try to challenge the Friday ban, and especially try to move the ban from 14:00 to 17:00 because all the logistics and shipping firms work until that time, he added.
"We would thus limit the time our shipping companies have available for loading and unloading trucks, and also harm production for some companies, because shippers and their vehicles often serve as storage places on the road for them," Reich told The Slovak Spectator. "We could not meet the 'just in time' delivery principle (where parts are delivered right before they're needed for production), which would create major problems for our clients."
ČESMAD said manufacturers and logistics centres could also have objections to the changes.
Parliamentary deputies are in favour of the traffic law, but the parties will still come up with new suggestions, according to the Sme daily.
Slovak National Party (SNS) boss Ján Slota, for example, has a problem with the ban on drinking any beverages while driving.
"Repression is starting to dominate the thinking of democrats in Europe," Slota told Sme.
However, some deputies also suspect that the legislation will only use the threat of punishment to decrease the currently high road accident rate, instead of changing drivers' attitudes. Critics of the legislation also warn that Slovakia's roads are not ready for higher speed limits on the motorways and highways, because it would be necessary to replace the steel guardrails with concrete ones.
Last year, the traffic safety situation in Slovakia deteriorated with a rising number of car accidents, the Transport Research Institute told The Slovak Spectator. Police recorded 62,033 accidents, 2,042 more than in 2005.
During the first quarter of 2007, 151 people died on Slovakia's roads, 48 more than during the same period last year.
With files from Marta Ďurianová and Jana Liptáková
3. Sep 2007 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová