Just a few hours after Flanders launched a road safety campaign – called 'Slow down not just to avoid a fine' – to warn people against speeding, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon candidly stated that "sometimes you just have to take the risk" during a popular television talk show on Wednesday evening.
During the Play4 programme 'De tafel van vier' ("The table of four" in Dutch), presenter Gert Verhulst asked Jambon if he had noticed anything about the 24-hours speed check marathon across Belgium on Wednesday.
"I have not, and that is double good news. It is a sign that the speed cameras were well-hidden, and that we were not caught for speeding," Jambon replied. "But that is not to my credit; I have the privilege of having a driver, and drivers are very cautious people."
Verhulst then asked if any incurred fines are for the driver's account or for Jambon. "Honestly, if I sometimes give orders that we have to be somewhere really fast, and we get fined, then...," Jambon started to reply, but was interrupted by Verhulst asking if he sometimes gives orders to drive too fast.
"Very rarely," Jambon admitted. "But sometimes, you just have to say 'OK, we will take that risk.'"
'Surprisingly nonchalant attitude'
Strikingly, Jambon's fellow member of the Flemish Government and Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters had sent out a press release just a few hours earlier, stating that "drivers too often adopt a surprisingly nonchalant attitude to speeding, with all the risks that entails. Avoiding a fine should actually be the last reason to reduce speed."
The press release was sent out as part of the latest campaign of the Flemish Foundation for Traffic Studies (VSV), 'Slow down not just to avoid a fine,' which will use roadside posters over the next few weeks to draw attention to the danger of speeding.
"In 2021, nearly 9,000 drivers in Flanders were caught speeding every day," the VSV said. "The rising number of cases is obviously related to the increased chance of being caught for speeding, but also indicates that speeding is still a major problem in Flanders."
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"The speed limit is simply the safety limit. It is there for a reason and mainly to protect vulnerable road users," said Werner De Dobbeleer, spokesperson for the Flemish Foundation for Traffic Studies, on Flemish radio on Thursday morning, calling Jambon's statements "regrettable."
"As a politician, he obviously has a role model function. But deliberately driving too fast, that is just not done. This is not a message you want to hear. With this campaign, the explicit aim is to go against people's condoning of driving too fast," he said.
Both by police and road safety experts, speed is seen as one of the 'three big killers' in traffic, alongside drunk driving and distractions such as mobile phone use.
Jambon's party colleague and Education Minister Ben Weyts (and former Mobility Minister) also expressed criticism on Thursday morning, saying that people are "fooling themselves" if they think speeding can get them somewhere faster.
"An accident happening at 120km/h or at 140km/h can sometimes be the difference between injured, severely injured and dead," Weyts said. "That is why limits are set."