Higher Fines Bring GAI Out in Droves

A week ago I returned from England, where I had spent 10 days working with the people from Land Rover. I had traveled through that beautiful country by car, and the biggest surprise was not that it was my first experience driving in the left-hand lane. The fact that most people in England don't carry their driving licenses with them was the biggest wonder to me.

It was explained to me that if you are stopped by the traffic police (and this will happen only if you have done something wrong on the road) you just tell them who you are and then you should bring your papers to your local police station within five days. That's all!

(By the way, I saw only one traffic checkpoint during my stay there.)

Well, now I'm back in Russia where traffic police are standing on every corner waiting for their next prey. After the government's recent increase in traffic fines, the number of GAI officers on the streets of Moscow has doubled. Drivers should be twice as careful now.

At the same time, I noticed an interesting thing: if you're stopped by the police you must now stay in your car and wait for the officer to come to you. After that you may speak with him through an open window -- not more. This procedure probably seems strange to most drivers in Russia.

In previous years every driver had to pull over, get out of the car and run in the direction of the traffic officer, who might be as much as a hundred meters away. It's good to see that something has changed.

Nonetheless, the police still seem to have the law very much on their side.

For example, the Consumer Rights Defense Association and drivers in Moscow have long been at odds with the authorities' use of "boots," devices which immobilize illegally parked cars. This week it was announced that the city court has ruled against a suit by the consumer association which sought to have the use of these "boots" declared illegal.

And one more example. Due to new, higher traffic fines, the penalty for some violations is "one half the average salary." The "average salary," by GAI calculations, is about 85,000 rubles. If you calculate 50 percent of the average salary, you will get 47,500. You, but not the traffic police in Moscow. Several days ago I was stopped for a very simple and not very serious violation and the police officer wanted me to pay 85,000 rubles. I told him that this violation "costs" half that amount and got a funny answer: "Yes, half of the average salary -- but not less than 50,000. We don't have receipts printed for less than this amount."

Yes, the traffic police in Moscow have become more polite and humane, but the regulations -- never.