Tens of thousands of Czech drivers are slipping through a legal loophole. Law holds a car’s driver, not the owner of the vehicle, responsible for offences. But the law also says that persons cannot be forced to testify against their spouses or other close persons (osoba blízká in Czech). Hospodářské noviny has discovered that, in some places, half of all drivers brought into court on traffic offences have invoked the close-person protection.
In Prague, for example, 43% of owners of cars involved in traffic offences claim the offence was the fault, not of themselves, but of a close person who was driving the car. More than 22,000 people invoke the protection successfully every year.
Ostrava is not much better off. Close persons rescue 40% of drivers. In Plzeň, half of all offences are chalked up to close persons.
An exception is Brno, where only 2% of traffic court cases involve close persons. “We try to handle the offences on the spot and not pass them on to town hall. Near every radar there is an officer who stops the driver immediately and deals with the offence and the driver. That is how we solve most cases,” said Zdeněk Novák, Brno municipal police spokesman.
There are basically two situations when the car owner may invoke the close person: when a vehicle is improperly and the driver is not caught on the spot, and when a radar photographs a speeding vehicle and the driver’s face is not identifiable. “In the second situation, the close person is used almost every time. As soon as the driver discovers he or she is not clearly recognisable, they use the close person in 90% of the cases,” said Petra Pukarová, Plzeň town hall spokeswoman.
Transport expert Stanislav Huml says drivers often mask themselves. “Drivers commonly lower their car’s sunvisor in the places where there is a radar,” Huml says.
There are presently two proposals to limit the use of close person. Former Transport Minister Aleš Řebíček (ODS) and a group of MPs proposes cancelling close person altogether. The second proposal, signed for example by David Šeich (ODS) wants to leave the responsibility for the car with its owner at all times.