Anti-racer initiative raises controversy
An initiative aiming to keep reckless drivers off the streets has sparked a debate about road safety and accident prevention.
The initiative, launched last April by the Swiss organisation for accident victims RoadCross, enjoys wide support among citizens and politicians. But it also attracts opposition from organisations claiming its scope is too narrow and it targets the wrong group of drivers.
"The matter is of great concern to people," RoadCross spokesman Silvan Granig said. The issue of reckless driving and speeding has received a lot of media coverage lately because of the increasing number of speed-related accidents that have happened, he said.
The initiative is aimed at people who drive at excessive speed or indulge in races rather than at motorists who are a shade over the speed limit. It is mainly young men aged between 18 and 25 who engage in those activities, according to Granig. Most of them get off lightly as reckless driving has never been clearly defined by law, but the initiative aims to change this.
Granig said the initiative would help make roads safer but would not lead to a drastic decrease in the number of road casualties. It also tied in with the road safety measures proposed by the Swiss transport ministry under the Via Sicura scheme, he added.
The Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (bfu) agrees that reckless drivers are a problem and should be punished but maintains that they are a minority and represent only the tip of the iceberg. "If the initiative helps sensitise people to the issue and makes them realise that driving too fast is not a minor offence, it serves its purpose," bfu spokesman Daniel Menna said.
Speed is the major cause of car crashes and road fatalities, according to Menna. But the majority of speed-related accidents are caused by motorists who only slightly exceed the speed limit rather than by racers. A small increase in speed may have a huge effect on fatalities when vehicles and pedestrians collide. "The number of deaths rises by 60 per cent if a vehicle travelling at 50 instead of 30 kilometres per hour hits a pedestrian," he said.
"We believe it is far more important and effective to make the huge majority of occasional speeders aware of the danger of driving too fast than tackling the minority of speeding drivers."
The Touring Club of Switzerland (TCS), the Swiss motoring organisation, agrees that reckless driving is a problem but says the initiative goes too far. "The initiative can't guarantee that there won't be any dangerous drivers on the road," said spokesman Stephan Müller. The current legislation was adequate to deal with the problem, he said, adding that there was no need for new laws as reckless drivers could be convicted and/or fined under the existing criminal law.
"Even if you suspend or revoke racers' licences or convict them of street racing, you cannot prevent them from driving recklessly or indulging in a street race again," Müller said. Other speed-racing measures suggested by the initiative, like confiscating, selling or turning racers' cars into scrap or installing black boxes, have been discussed but are ineffective or not feasible, he claimed.
He said the most effective way to solve the problem was to continue running speed awareness and prevention campaigns, to inform and educate 18- to 25-year-olds, visit schools and talk about the issue, as the TCS had been doing for the past decades. Speed checks by police were necessary and reasonable too.
"We ran a campaign to stop street racing a few years back, long before RoadCross launched its current initiative," Müller said.
- The Swiss organisation for accident prevention RoadCross launched the initiative "Protection from Racers" in April 2010.
- The initiative is backed by citizens and politicians. Representatives of all parties sit on the initiative committee.
- RoadCross has collected 100,000 signatures in just under seven months; this is less than half the time allowed in order for the proposal to be put to a nationwide vote.
- The initiative aims to get 1,000 reckless and irresponsible motorists off the road every year.
- "Reckless Driver" is defined for the first time in the initiative. If found guilty, motorists can be given a prison sentence of up to two years and/or fine; their licences can be suspended or revoked; their vehicles can be confiscated and sold with the proceeds going to the support of accident victims.
- RoadCross plans to hand in the initiative to parliament in early summer 2011.
Katalin Fekete / Expatica
Katalin Fekete is a freelance journalist based in Switzerland. She has also worked in magazine and book publishing and has co-authored three books about Switzerland and cross-cultural issues.