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Reacquiring a driver’s license will become more difficult from next year. Completion of group therapy will be a condition.
The amendment to the Road Traffic Act, which is estimated to affect thousands of drivers, will come into force on 1 April 2024.
“In full mode, we are considering at least 10,000 drivers per year. But we can get to more than 20,000,” estimates traffic psychologist Pavel Řezáč from the Center for Traffic Research (CDV).
Those who have lost their driving license for more than 18 months, or who have refused to submit to an alcohol and drug test, will have to take a therapeutic course. Completion of the course will also be able to be imposed by prosecutors or courts.
Those interested in returning their driver’s license will have to wait for five four-hour meetings. “We are trying to lead a person to be more aware of the consequences of his own behavior, which could have caused not only the loss of his driver’s license, but far more serious consequences, such as serious bodily harm and, in extreme cases, even death,” explains Řezáč.
“Of course, this is challenging, but we try to use appropriate therapeutic methods to achieve the goal. So that people are more aware of their behavior on the road and try to reconsider it,” he adds.
The course does not end with any test, the only condition is participation and active access. There will be between three and 12 people in the group.
But the participants will have to pay for it. It costs 11,000 crowns without VAT. After that, you will still need to undergo a traffic-psychological examination, an examination with a general practitioner and repeat the test at a driving school.
Lecturers did not exist
Although the introduction of the new product is approaching, the Czech Republic has so far lacked lecturers who would lead therapeutic programs. That is why they are currently intensively trained in the newly established Methodological Center of the CDV.
“By the end of 2023, the center will have trained approximately 150 qualified lecturers,” says Filip Medelský, spokesman for the Ministry of Transport.
“It is important to remember that this is a completely new institute, the functioning of which will be continuously analyzed,” he adds.
The training is currently only possible in Brno, in the CDV building. According to Řezáč, an estimated 180 lecturers will be needed.
“Until now, therapeutic programs did not work, we did not need lecturers. A very small part of the lecturers, estimated at around 20, worked in a prison environment, where the analogy of this program also ran,” he describes.
He argues that everyone should be accredited until it is needed. “We have modeled how many lecturers are needed with regard to the workload of the entire republic. We are currently retraining them so that their number covers the demand. From next year, there will be only minimal numbers,” Řezáč thinks.
In the big cities – Prague, Brno or Olomouc – the necessary capacities are already filled. “We have two more training runs for lecturers scheduled, they are already almost full. Then we will only focus on regions where a smaller number of people are needed,” he explains.
Recidivism is decreasing
The transport research center, which is in charge of the courses, tested everything on 750 people in the pilot program. According to Řezáč, the results are promising.
“The effectiveness in the Czech environment in terms of reduced recurrence of problematic behavior exceeds 70 percent. In some cases, we reached 90 percent,” he adds. “Compared to the European average, this is a very good result.”
There was also a study in which they monitored the effect of the program on the brain using magnetic resonance imaging. “We found that after completing the program there is a significant improvement, the activation of the parts of the brain that are responsible for prosocial behavior and the area of emotions,” he states.
According to statistics, the situation on domestic roads is improving. The accident rate and the number of incidents that end tragically are decreasing. But almost 100,000 accidents happen every year and approximately 500 people die.
“Those are still too big numbers for us to say that we don’t need to try harder,” points out Jiří Novotný from the Security Team. “Those numbers won’t bother us until they don’t concern us. As soon as it is my relative, I will definitely see it differently.”
Mandatory therapy courses are therefore a good step, according to him. “Our traffic is getting denser, faster, more demanding. We have to adapt the rules and teaching to it,” he claims.
“Only time will show the gaps when we evaluate what we are missing. Anyway, this proposal works with the applicant, that’s definitely a positive thing for me. It doesn’t mean that we just remove that person from the system,” Novotný assesses.
Among the most common offenses are alcohol, drugs behind the wheel and high speed. “Even though we know these things are wrong, we don’t take it as seriously as we should,” he thinks.
It also explains why it is not yet realistic to include content from therapeutic courses in the teaching of driving schools. Prices would climb to much higher amounts.
“We would like to be able to discuss these things more with the applicants and educate them further. But today we are already criticized for the fact that driving school costs a lot of money. If we were to say that we would add, say, five hours, it would cost us another five thousand crowns. Will the society perceive it positively?” he asks.
“The devil is always in the detail”
Roman Budský, a traffic expert from the Vize 0 platform, also welcomes the news. “We are the only country in the European Union that does not have something like this,” he emphasizes.
“There are a number of people here who have problems on the roads and are dangerous not because they don’t know how to drive a car or don’t know the rules, but in short and well they behave dangerously because of their personality,” he comments.
According to him, these people are not aware of the possible long-term effects of their behavior. “Many of them fall into a false sense of immortality and invulnerability,” he adds.
Course participants should therefore work with their personality. “It is necessary for them to know their strengths and weaknesses – how they themselves can be risky in road traffic and how to work with it,” explains Budský.
A careful selection of lecturers will also be necessary. “The devil is always in the detail. When two do the same thing, it is not the same thing. It’s one thing to set up courses in terms of content, another thing is the quality of execution,” he thinks.
According to him, the programs are set up well. “But emotions have to come into play. It is not a matter of rational explanation. In people, their Pandora’s box has to be opened so that they start to internally identify with the fact that they should start behaving differently on the road. He must feel it,” he appeals.
It will also be important to evaluate the programs. “Then we have to think about what might not be working there. So that it does not become an administrative burden that has no meaning for people,” warns Budský.
Lesser conditions for therapists
The legal regulation of therapeutic programs for risky drivers was introduced into the Road Traffic Act the year before last by a parliamentary proposal and was originally supposed to be effective from January this year.
According to the amendment, only one lecturer will be sufficient to lead the course, who will be able to apply for the program online.
At the same time, the length of experience required for accreditation was shortened – from five to three years. Some other currently valid conditions have also been eased.