Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou conceded on Wednesday that no matter what authorities have done in recent years to reduce road deaths, it has fallen on deaf ears.
Nicolaou was speaking at the presentation of a new study by the University of Cyprus (UCy) law department that posed the question whether penalties were sufficiently dissuasive for traffic offences.
Some of the report, by lead researcher Dr Andreas Kapardis, and sponsored by the Association of Insurance companies, was leaked to the press last weekend.
The main finding of the study was that penalties, no matter how harsh they were by law, were useless as long as offenders thought they would not be caught and that the punishments would not be strictly imposed.
“It is truly regrettable that despite efforts to reduce road collisions… the numbers remain at high levels and the main causes remain the same as the number of messages and actions fall on deaf ears,” he said.
This is why the study, he added, would be used to formulate a new policy of prevention and punishment “because obviously one is needed”.
“Two key elements are the severity of the sentence imposed and not only the one provided by law, and the perception that offenders think they might not get caught nor have a serious penalty imposed,” the minister added.
He said currently the penalties imposed for the most frequent cause of fatal or serious accidents is so low that it results in “incorrigible offenders”. They were, Nicolaou said, lower than Greece and the UK. “For example, penalties for speeding are the lowest among 18 EU countries used in the study.”
The conclusions of the report will be discussed by ministries, MPs and the judiciary, Nicolaou said, and hoped it would prompt a dialogue and a public debate that would result in a multidimensional strategy.
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, should be based on the principle of proportionality. Also without speed cameras, policing would be more difficult. The government plans to reintroduce them next year. Nicolaou also mentioned the creation of a re-education school for driving offenders.
Figures show that 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. The most common sentence imposed by the courts are fines, and very few offenders are deprived of their driving licences. In 2014, from the 28,962 found guilty of traffic offences, 98 per cent were 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.
“We need more tools to force compliance for unscrupulous drivers and bring about the change we desire,” Nicolaou said.