THERE will be no trucks on Slovakia's roads on Friday afternoons once parliament passes a bill that the police are describing as a tool to make the country's roads safer. But a major road transport association said the legislation is discriminatory and truck-free Fridays are unlikely to bring relief to Slovakia's overburdened roads: instead, truck operators predict chaos.
The new road traffic bill was approved by Prime Minister Robert Fico's cabinet in mid April. It would force trucks off all Slovakia's main roads on all Fridays between 16:00 and 20:00.
"At that time trucks are hindering traffic and often cause accidents, which, in particular on routes into the capital, completely block the roads," Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák told the press.
Truck operators, who under existing legislation are already banned from the country's roads during holidays and Sundays, argue that no other European Union country imposes such year-round limitations on road hauliers.
While acknowledging that the country needs a new traffic code, ČESMAD Slovakia, the association of road transporters, said that the country's roads are simply not ready for truck-free Friday afternoons.
"Though the law is necessary, this provision is especially bad since it prevents people who are returning to their families after a several-week absence to get home sooner, only in order to allow other people to make it home faster," Pavol Reich, the general secretary of ČESMAD, told The Slovak Spectator. "This is discrimination."
Besides, trucks make up only a small portion of the traffic on the roads and thus the provision will make only a minimal difference to the situation, Reich added.
Trucks are responsible for slightly less than 3 percent of traffic accidents, while modern trucks, which can comfortably maintain 90 kilometres per hour, should in no way be seen as a hindrance to road traffic, ČESMAD said.
ČESMAD suggested that the police should have a test day, to simulate the ban and see what happens. While some local media interpreted the suggestion as a threat of a strike, the association said that it should only be a test.
Truck operators and transport firms also worry that there are not enough parking places on Slovakia's roads for trucks to use on Fridays between 16:00 and 20:00.
The lack of parking lots will result in collisions that will further endanger road safety, Reich said.
According to ČESMAD, on the Trnava-Zvolen route - one of the most heavily used sections of road - about 860 trucks pass through on a typical Friday between 16:00 and 20:00. But they point out that there are only 40 stopping places for trucks along the whole route.
However, a police spokesman, Martin Korch, said that ČESMAD is wrong in its criticism of the proposed legislation.
"The police reject self-serving statements by representatives of ČESMAD Slovakia regarding the limitations of truck transportation, which the new law on road transportation regulates," Korch told The Slovak Spectator.
All the truck operators have to do is to improve their logistics and then the current parking spaces will be enough, Korch added.
"We are not responsible for logistics," Reich responded. "We are only offering the service that our customers demand and we have to satisfy their needs. We cannot really influence logistics, and unifying the demands of all the firms is in truth unrealistic."
The police also rejected ČESMAD's arguments that the law was designed by ministerial bureaucrats detached from practice.
Transportation experts prepared the law, said Korch.
He told The Slovak Spectator that the new law, when compared to the old one, actually reduces the hours - from 22 to eight - when certain types of vehicles are banned from the roads. These, he said, are now distributed during the most critical days, on Friday and Sunday afternoons.
"We do not understand what ČESMAD is trying to achieve through threats and pressures," Korch said. "The new law is unambiguously [intended] to increase the safety and flow of road transportation."
According to Korch, drivers of passenger cars, who make up the majority on Slovakia's roads, have reacted positively to the legislation.
ČESMAD's Reich, however, said that large investors in Slovakia are also opposed to the legislation.
"Truck transportation is a service to large investors, who are also opposing the proposal because on Fridays they will not be able to employ a second shift," Reich said.
While the police argue that as a result of the new law, trucks will only encounter a couple of hours' delay, Reich said that even one hour counts.
"For example in one hour Sony is able to unload 80 trucks right onto the production line because [they] do not have storage space," Reich said. "It means that, for example, those four lots of 80 (i.e. 360) deliveries cannot simply be delayed by four hours, since storage problems would emerge."
According to Reich, when investors came to Slovakia they did so in the belief that they could manufacture products without disruptions.
No other country, not even countries like for example Ukraine, has a year-round Friday ban for truck transportation; and only five countries have a ban during the summer break, according to Reich.
"We will certainly do our best to have the provision erased from the law," Reich concluded.
Truckers are not the only road users facing changes.
On April 23, the cabinet approved other proposed changes which will require cars to keep their headlights on throughout the year, and which will establish higher penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The new traffic code also sets a minimum speed on highways: 50km/h to 80km/h. The speed limit in urban areas will drop from 60 to 50km/h. And if there is a continuous layer of snow, ice or frost on the road, vehicles using such roads must be fitted with winter tyres.
The ministry is also proposing higher penalties for driving offences. Instead of the current two years, a driving ban could be issued for five years. Drivers may face a fine of Sk10,000-40,000, plus a driving ban of one to five years, if they refuse to undergo a breathalyser test, the SITA newswire reported.
With files from Dominika Uhríková.
5. May 2008 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová