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New road traffic law in Finland would bring clarity to traffic rules and prepare for automation

  15.02.2017    

The total overhaul of the Road Traffic Act (Tieliikennelaki 267/1981) has transitioned to the statement phase. The regulations concerning action and behaviour in road transport have been compiled in the legal draft. With this renewal, the regulatory framework would be streamlined to replace the ambiguities and shortcomings of the old legislation as well as prepare road transport for rapid technical advancement and automation.
The draft proposal contains, among other things, the traffic rules as well as the regulations affecting traffic management, vehicle behaviour and breaking the law.
According to Minister of Transport and Communications of Finland Anne Berner, the Road Traffic Act is one of the most applied laws by citizens, and for this reason it must be maximally unambiguous and understandable. The reform is extensive, and has been under preparation for approximately four years.
“Traffic rules must be clear and easy to understand, so that road users can trust each other in a traffic environment that is in mutual use. Traffic is currently changing rapidly. For this reason, the regulatory framework of road traffic is being updated to make it up-to-date and, at the same time, preparations are being made for the changes brought about by automation. Not only that, but the new law is intended to create the prerequisites for traffic fluency and safety in the future as well,” Ms Berner states.
The currently valid law is from 1981, and it has been supplemented by innumerable statutes from various years. The law has been amended several dozen times. The set of norms in the draft being now delivered on the consultation round has been compiled more closely together, and the total number of individual regulations has been reduced.

Fines become traffic penalty fees

With the renewal of the Road Traffic Act, the December decision in principle of the government would be implemented with regard to improvement of road traffic safety.  In the decision in principle, the government also committed itself to revise the criminal justice system pertaining to traffic. In the draft bill, the system based on more moderate infractions and fine procedures would be abandoned and a comprehensive traffic penalty fee together with its related systems would be established.
The new penalty fee would be a fixed charge similar to a fine. Depending on the degree of blameworthiness, the payment would vary between EUR 20 and EUR 400. In connection with automatic traffic surveillance, a detected violation could be subjected to a vehicle-specific traffic penalty fee. A vehicle-specific traffic penalty fee would be the liability of the owner of the vehicle entered in the register, its controller, temporary user or person in charge of use, unless they can credibly show that they have not acted as the driver at the time the violation has been committed. 
As a result of the new system, automatic supervision of traffic rules would be easier to extend in addition to speeding to, for example, compliance with the crosswalk rule and against crossing a junction on a red light.

Traffic data to be deployed, from a yellow line to a white one

According to the draft, the requirements of traffic automation would be improved by, for instance, ensuring that persons inside a motor vehicle continue to be regarded as road users even though they are not the one controlling the vehicle. For example, manually stopping a car is already possible in the newest models from outside the vehicle.
Spacial data related to traffic signs, traffic lights and other traffic control equipment would in the future be transmitted more comprehensively into the information system maintained by the Finnish Transport Agency, where it is possible to utilise this information in many different ways.
The yellow centre line would be marked as time goes on in white in accordance with the European method, in order to save costs. White also provides better contrast when seen, for instance, by means of computer vision.

On the terms of those more vulnerable
A goal supported in the legal draft is to particularly protect those in a more vulnerable position in traffic.  An attempt is being made in the regulation proposals to especially take pedestrian traffic and bicycling into consideration.
Bicycling regulations would be clarified. With the new traffic signs, it would be possible to permit bidirectional cycling in a one-way street.  The law would also incorporate the new concept of a bicycle street in which a motorist should give unimpeded access to bicycles and adjust their speed in accordance with bike traffic.  An extension to a bicycle street could in the future be marked only if the obligation to yield to vehicle traffic is set for the intersecting road.
The visibility of crosswalks would be improved so that in the future they would always be marked with both traffic signs and road signs.
The goal is also that road users would take more responsibility for their own traffic safety. For example, the rule favouring the use of bicycle helmets and reflectors would be eliminated from the law and their use would be encouraged by means of more effective measures.  

Operating rules subject to many amendment proposals
Many rules connected with the use of motor vehicles would be amended. For example, parking a vehicle in the direction of travel on the left-hand side of the road would also be permitted. A motor vehicle could leave a junction using the most appropriate lane if the intersecting carriageway has two or more lanes.
Speed limits for vans and recreational vehicles of 80–100 km/h would be relinquished. The towing speed for centre axle trailers would be raised to 100 kilometres per hour.  The new fast tractors would be aligned in the legislation with trucks and lorries. The obligation to use seatbelts would be introduced for taxi drivers, motor vehicle inspectors and tractor drivers.
Winter tyre regulations would be expanded to better correspond to Finland’s varying road conditions. Winter tyres would have to be used already from November to the end of March if the weather or road conditions require it.
New proposed traffic signs connected with the driving of motor vehicles would include, for example, the minimum speed for the road, right of way at bicycle road crossing points, charging points for electric cars and road sections where the use of studded tyres is prohibited.

Transport sector and young people's involvement in preparations

In addition to the various ministries and authorities under the direction of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, transport sector-related civic organisations and associations have participated in the preparation of the government draft proposal. Children and youth have been given a role in the preparation of the law via the “Voice of Young People in Traffic Safety” project.
The Ministry of Transport and Communications has sent the legal draft for a consultation round which will end on 13/04/2017.  Statements may be submitted on the public administration’s lausuntopalvelu.fi (statement service) website.
The bill supports the government’s aims of streamlining regulations and dismantling norms. In addition, the reform will implement the government’s priority project, i.e. building a digital growth environment.



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