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Police look to put the brakes on road racers

A driver from Serbia-Montenegro was involved in this fatal accident near Zurich on Wednesday Keystone Archive

Frustrated by a surge in fatal road accidents caused by speeding motorists, the Swiss authorities are now moving to strip reckless drivers of their vehicles.

This content was published on June 18, 2004 - 11:46

A Zurich district prosecutor is this week taking legal steps to impound a 23-year-old man's car, after he was caught racing through a tunnel at 200kmh.

The move comes amid increasing public anger at fatal accidents involving young drivers engaged in street racing, similar to that depicted in the popular Hollywood film, “The Fast and the Furious”.

On Wednesday night a 16-year-old passenger was killed instantly in the hills above Lake Zurich when the car he was travelling in – apparently racing another vehicle – slammed into a roadside signpost.

On June 4, three people died and three were injured in canton St Gallen when a 24-year-old driver crashed his speeding Renault Clio headfirst into an on-coming Volvo.

Just weeks earlier, three people were critically injured in Dietikon, near Zurich, in a late-night race.

Road racing

One of the worst incidents was in 1999, when two pedestrians were killed by a pair of drivers racing each other at 120kmh through a village near Lucerne.

Attention has been drawn to the fact that in many of the cases the drivers were immigrants, mainly from the former republics of Yugoslavia.

This was recently highlighted by Peter-Martin Meier, the chief of St Gallen’s traffic police.

Meier said a study showed that young men from the Balkans were over-represented in cantonal accident statistics.

In 2002 they were responsible for 17 per cent of major speeding-related accidents. That figure has risen to 24 per cent so far this year.

Similarly, Balkan men have been responsible for 30 per cent of all speeding infringements in St Gallen this year.

Tougher road laws

The Swiss authorities recently launched a national media campaign aimed at young drivers, with slogans such as “racers die a lonely death”.

In canton Basel Country, police have also begun showing young adults graphic images of road accidents, in an effort to build awareness of the consequences of reckless driving.

In addition, new road rules – due to come into force from 2005 - will make it possible to permanently strip repeat traffic offenders of their licences.

Those who commit more than four “serious traffic offences” – such as driving more than 155kmh on a motorway – will be denied the right to drive for life.

However, some experts question whether such measures will stop determined racers and they are calling for more serious sanctions such as the impounding of cars.

“Taking away a racer’s licence doesn’t stop many from driving,” said Beat Hensler, chief of Lucerne's cantonal police.

Denying “hard cases” their valuable roadsters also has the support of Jolanda van de Graaf from the Federal Roads Authority.

“It is certainly justified in extreme cases,” she said.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber in Zurich

In brief

Adults from the Balkans responsible for road incidents in St Gallen:

Speeding infringements:
2002 – 23%
2004 – 30%

Serious accidents caused by speeding:
2002 – 17%
2004 – 24%

Single-vehicle accidents caused by speeding in 2004:
Of some 560 incidents, 267 were by non-Swiss (48%)

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