Corruption Helping New Fines Work

MTA traffic police officer checking a driver's registration Thursday on Verkhnyaya Maslovka Ulitsa. Higher traffic fines have given police cause to be more active.
More severe punishments for traffic violations that came into effect on Jan. 1 appear to have had an immediate effect on policing and driving habits.

The Moscow region traffic police, for example, reported a sharp spike in the number of driving related arrests over the first week of the new year, and drivers say they are paying more attention to the rules.

In a perverse twist, however, corruption appears to have helped make this happen, as the rise in fines for certain offenses has made it financially worthwhile for traffic police to actually stop rule breakers.

"The number of bribes being paid has at least doubled," said Leonid Olshansky, vice president of the Movement of Russian Motorists.

He said that, in the case of fines, the bribe paid was usually half the amount of the ticket and that those for staying out of jail could be expensive.

"If a person is facing up to 15 days, the bribe he has to pay will be from $2,000 to $5,000," Olshansky said, adding that his evidence came both from telephone complaints to his organization and personal experience.

Some drivers were positive about the new fines.

"I think this will help," said Andrei Shishov, 52, a realtor and Volvo owner.

"Here's a simple example: Before New Year's, when the fine for driving without a seat belt was 100 rubles, nobody wore seat belts because the traffic police wouldn't stop anyone for such a small bribe," Shishov said. "It wasn't profitable for police."

"Now the fine is 500 rubles and I have started buckling up," he added.

An unscientific sample of the calls to Olshansky's movement suggested that drivers are split between those who have decided to adhere more closely to the law and those who think the police should relax the rules a bit.

Arrest figures under the new regime suggest that this is unlikely to happen.

Vladimir Sevostyanov, deputy head of the department of administrative practices and inquiries for the Moscow region traffic police, said 22 drivers had been detained for violations over the first eight days of January. The total for the region last year was 27.

"This is a huge number for just one region," Sevostyanov said, adding that it would have been even higher if many regional courts had not been closed for the holidays. By law, traffic violation arrests must be confirmed by a court.

The 22 drivers, including one woman, received sentences of up to 15 days for offenses including driving while impaired or with a suspended license, and refusing to submit to a blood test under suspicion of driving while intoxicated, Sevostyanov said.

He added that the number of arrests was likely to fall as drivers become more aware of the new traffic regime and begin to pay closer heed to the law.

Other offenses that can carry jail terms of up to 15 days include failing to pay traffic fines and leaving the scene of an accident.

Pregnant women, mothers of children younger than 14, minors, the handicapped and members of the military are exempt from serving jail time for all of the offenses except leaving an accident scene, and are required instead to pay fines from 5,000 rubles, or about $200.

A spokeswoman for the Moscow region police said Wednesday that up to 5,000 daily traffic violations were being reported in the region, which did not represent a change from last year.

No statistics were yet available for Moscow.

Although some drivers said they thought the higher fines and increase in the number of offenses punishable by jail time would make the roads safer, others said it was not always possible to abide by the law.

"There will be more peace on the roads. Nobody drives faster than 60 to 80 kilometers per hour since Jan.1," said Pyotr Baranov, 27, who drives his Ford for a private company.

But Shishov, the owner of the Volvo, said flaws in the country's traffic system made it impossible to always drive according to the rules. Among the barriers, he cited inefficient traffic light systems and poor work by the traffic police, as well as widespread corruption.

Baranov agreed.

"When I am able to obey the traffic rules, I do " Baranov said, adding that he had already paid a speeding fine of 1,500 rubles, or $61, since the new rules came into effect.

As of Jan. 1, the fine for running a red light was raised to 700 rubles from the previous level of 100 rubles, while driving at more than 60 kilometers per hour now carries a fine of 2,500 rubles and can also bring a license suspension of six months.

The penalty for not wearing a seat belt was also bumped to 500 rubles from 100 rubles.