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Harsh penalties for driving offences not enough on their own – study

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A study by the University of Cyprus law department into how to reduce road accidents concludes that extrajudicial penalties should be harsher but said this on its own was not enough of a deterrent because offending drivers also need to know they will be caught and punished.

Suggestions in the study include harsher fines staggered in relation for instance to the levels of excessive speed, culminating in imprisonment for up to six months. Deterrence, it said, be based on the principle of proportionality.

But it pointed out that exemplary punishment was by itself not effective if not combined with a perception that the chance of being caught was high, and that offenders would be severely punished. These deterrents, the report said, was why Cypriot drivers who travel through the British bases, or abroad, have a higher incidence of compliance with the rules of the road.

The study deals mainly with prevention, according to Phileleftheros, which published the details on Sunday. According to the figures presented, Cyprus, with a population of around 850,000, had in 2014 a total of 229,834 people with driving licences and 646,636 registered vehicles.

The number of road collisions and deaths in Cyprus has decreased over time, but the number of fatalities as a proportion of accidents has increased from 12.8 per 1,000 accidents in 1982 to 39 fatalities per 1,000 accidents in 2014. Cyprus currently ranks 12th among the EU 28 in terms of road deaths.

According to police, between 2011-2015 there were 6,562 accidents of which 259 (4 per cent) were fatal. Some 2,000 people (31 per cent) were seriously injured and 1,890 (29 per cent) were slightly injured while 36 per cent involved vehicle-only damage.

More than half (57 per cent) of the drivers and passengers on motorcycles who died were not wearing a helmet and 64 per cent of those who died in vehicles were not wearing seatbelts.

The main causes of road accidents 2011-2015 were drink driving (27 per cent), reckless driving (23 per cent), driving on the wrong side (14 per cent), speed (13 per cent), and driving under the influence of drugs (8.5 per cent). Over 8 per cent of those killed were pedestrians.

Road accidents decreased 14 per cent in 2007 when speed cameras were being used but due to problems with the tenders the system was withdrawn. The government plans to reintroduce it next year.

The UCy study examined how Cyprus compared in terms of causes and prevention methodology and penalties. It found that international norms to reduce road accidents included targeted policing, the classification of drivers based on road behaviour, prevention by combining dissuasive penalties with a high probability of detection and punishment of offenders, and ensuring road-safety awareness as part of a national strategy.

According to statistics for the period 2010-2014, nationwide, 57 per cent of accidents occurred in urban areas, 38 per cent on secondary roads and 5 per cent on highways. In 2015, the corresponding figures were 61 per cent, 35 per cent and 4 per cent, showing an increase in urban areas.

On this basis, the report said police have recently taken the approach of targeted policing based on collision probability. This means more investment in patrols and speed-controls in residential areas, on secondary roads and known blackspots. However, the report says, this approach is limited by the lack of speed cameras and staff shortages in the police.

Studies abroad have documented the fact that the age groups 18 to 21 and over 65 are both high risk groups for different reasons. New drivers, for example, are much more likely not to correctly evaluate risks, to be overconfident, to speed, and to drunk-drive late at night.

For this reason, in a number of countries, young drivers for the first three years after acquiring a licence are subject to more stringent measures such as lower permissible speed limits and more severe punishments when breaking the law.

In the Republic the most common sentence imposed by the courts are fines, and very few offenders are deprived their driving licences, the report says. Based on the latest available official data from the statistical service, in 2014, from the 28,962 found guilty of traffic offences, 98 per cent were merely fined, 0.03 per cent were given a suspended sentence, 0.06 per cent went to jail, while the remainder were deprived of their licence.

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