GAI Quick to Collect New Fines

The new rules increasing traffic fines were adopted only a couple of weeks ago, but I have already noticed some changes on Moscow's roads: Every driver now has to carry more cash if he doesn't want to lose his driving license.

But there are also some positive results. First, many drivers have started using their seat belts. You may know that, traditionally, Russian drivers are skeptical about the value of seat belts to protect their health and, sometimes, life. But in the first three days after the higher fines for not wearing seat belts came into effect, the traffic police, or GAI, started to check on belt usage more carefully than usual. Several friends of mine were fined 85,000 rubles ($14) for breaking this rule. The lesson is that you should buckle up.

You should also be very careful with speed limits now. I have noticed that there are a lot more special police cars equipped with radar on the streets. And, if before an experienced Moscow driver could guess the places to expect a radar patrol, it is getting more and more difficult to work out which roads are dangerous. There are too many police officers waiting on the street for "easy money," and the fine is about $100.

The new fines came into effect May 8, just before a three-day national holiday. I saw police patrols on every corner and every kilometer of road. Mostly, they were looking for drunk drivers. This all too common violation now brings a fine of about $300. It is safer and cheaper to take a cab if you are going to visit friends.

The increase in the level of fines has certainly given the GAI much needed financial support but I think the new penalties are also having a role in educating drivers.

A trivial example is that people are becoming much more careful to wash their cars and clean the license plates. A dirty car with unreadable plates is the first thing that GAI officers will stop.

So, the new penalties are taking effect and may be doing some good. The same is not necessarily true of another regulation adopted early in May. President Boris Yeltsin decided to require officials to give up their foreign-made cars -- such as Audis -- and switch to Russian Volgas. It's still early, but I haven't seen many officials in Volgas on Moscow's streets. The Audis are still there.

It all goes to show how government decisions work in Russia. If something is profitable to somebody, it starts to work very fast. If not, it takes a long time.