The new government in Prague recently dusted down an old idea to increase the speed limit on sections of motorway from 130 to 150 km/h.
That would give the Czech Republic one of the highest speed limits in Europe.
It has left many scratching their heads as to why the transport ministry would resuscitate an idea it had opposed back in 2015 when MPs proposed a similar speed limit change.
At the time, the amendment was quickly killed off by the Senate, the upper chamber of parliament, and President Milos Zeman publicly declared he would never sign such a change into law, even if parliament agreed to it.
The road quality concerns came 74th in the world for quality of roads — below Salvador, Iran and Gambia — in a 2018 study part-conducted by the World Economic Forum. It fell to 76th in the 2019 study, making it the fifth-worst in the European Union.
The country’s longest motorway, D1, connecting the capital Prague to Brno, was started in 1967 but decades of modernisation work only finished late last year.
The new coalition government that took office in December is eager to quickly turn things around. The new transport minister, Martin Kupka, says he will bring forward five major pieces of legislation to parliament this year, including amending the Road Traffic Act to increase motorway speed limits and improving the quality of the country’s roads.
According to a local media report from last year, investment in road infrastructure fell from around 1% of GDP in 2010 to 0.6% by 2020.
Yet, there has been a 10% increase in traffic on all Czech roads since 2016, and a 15% increase on highways, according to the recently released National Traffic Census 2020, a survey taken every five years by the Transport Research Centre, a public research institution.
The police have also chimed in with a long list of requirements. Before any changes are made to speed limits, a lengthy safety inspection of sections of motorway would first have to be carried out.
On a newly built stretch of the motorway, “a road safety audit would need to be carried out during the actual design of the construction to take account of the proposed speed”. None of these inspections are likely to be quick.
The obvious concern is safety, especially as improvement has been made in recent years. Road traffic deaths (per 1,000,000 inhabitants) fell from 141.5 in 1999 to 86.3 in 2009 and 57.9 in 2019, according to the OECD.
Any change to the speed limit will “increase the difference between the fastest vehicles and the slowest ones”, Rubášová explained.
Since the minimum speed limit on Czech motorways is 80km/h, the current speed differential is 50 km/h, she noted. But a change of the maximum speed would increase the deferential to 70 km/h, meaning the fastest cars will be driving at nearly twice the speed as the slowest.
According to local media reports, only a few stretches of the existing motorway network have so far been identified as suitable: the longest, between Prague’s Spořilov and Mirošovice junctions, is 21km; the shortest is a 2km stretch of motorway near Brno, in the southeast. The transport ministry did not respond to questions from Euronews.