Much ado about the traffic act

  • 2001-02-08
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Estonia spent five days without a properly working traffic act, thanks to a bureaucratic mistake that led to free parking and toothless traffic rules from Feb. 1 through 5.

Reportedly due to an official's negligence, the new traffic law did not renew the validity of previously working traffic regulations, creating a juridical vacuum.

Previous traffic regulations, in force since 1994, were valid only along with the old traffic law, which lost its power when the new one went into effect on Feb. 5.

Toivo Jurgenson, Estonia's minister of transport and communications, said he will strictly punish those officials in the ministry who hushed up the fact that the economics commission of the Parliament approved a new traffic law that did not include traffic regulations.

The commission hoped that the ministry would manage to come up with the regulations by Feb. 1, and therefore postponed completing the traffic legal acts. However, the ministry failed to do so, and Jurgenson said he was ready to castigate the responsible people as soon as an interior investigation flushed them out.

According to government spokesman Priit Poiklik, the new traffic law was approved in Parliament on Dec. 14, 2000 and became valid on Feb. 1. "As the new law required new traffic regulations, the government asked the Ministry of Transport and Communications on Feb. 1 to make necessary changes in the old regulations and present them for approval," said Poiklik.

By Friday night, Feb. 2, all the necessary signatures were collected and the new traffic regulations were published that same evening in Riigi Teataja, Estonia's public newsletter on legislation. According to the constitution, a law becomes valid three days after its publication in Riigi Teataja.

Opinions vary about the practicality of having two different legal acts coordinating traffic in Estonia. Aap Tanav, spokesman for the Ministry of Transport and Communications, said the ministry supports the idea of the future unification of the traffic act and the traffic regulations.

"Actually there is no need to have a law and regulations as two separate documents. Everything just remained as it was before (in the early 1990s, when the first traffic law appeared)," he said.

He referred to the international practice of citing traffic regulations in the traffic law.

Kaido Loor from Sorainen Law Offices disagreed, stating it would not be reasonable to unite the traffic law and the regulations into one act because usually the regulations included more issues that might require more frequent changes than fundamental questions considered in the law.

"Traffic is regulated by laws and decrees from the government in Latvia and Finland, by decrees in Lithuania, and by law in Estonia from Feb. 1," he said.

Loor thinks it is expected that some people will use the opportunity to sue the traffic police for fines written between Feb. 1 and Feb. 5.

"But some issues considering parking are also mentioned in the new law and should be respected regardless of the validity of the old traffic regulations," he added.

Tallinn lost about 150,000 kroons (more than $9,000) on Feb. 1 because enforcement officials had to issue written warnings rather than levy fines, according to Tallinn's traffic administration center.

Tallinn traffic wardens began issuing fines on Feb. 2, following a decree from the Tallinn City Council.