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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drivers Face Mobile Phone Ban

The nation's much-derided traffic police may get a new reason to extract fines from drivers if the Transportation Ministry gets its way and mobile telephone use behind the wheel is banned.

Transportation Ministry spokesman Alexander Filimonov said Thursday that his ministry and the Moscow traffic police will submit a draft law to the federal government by the end of the month "on new traffic regulations that prohibit drivers from using mobile telephones in the course of driving."

The Moscow city government initiated the move immediately following New Year's celebrations, ordering its internal affairs department to submit the proposal to the federal Interior Ministry, which runs the traffic police.

Local traffic police spokeswoman Marina Vasilyeva confirmed last week that her department would draft the law based on recommendations from the city government.

City Hall's recommendations, however, will not be based on research, but on a "strong-willed decision," said Vasilyeva. She declined to name who exactly made that decision.

"We don't have statistics of how many traffic accidents take place as a result of the use of mobile telephones," Vasilyeva said. "However, we are against the use of mobile telephones behind the wheel because they distract drivers from the road in the same way as, for example, smoking."

Without statistics, the traffic police and the Transportation Ministry will apparently base the draft law on the experiences of other countries that have enacted legislation to curb distracting telephone calls of drivers.

In Britain, for example, drivers face a heavy fine and up to two weeks in jail. Drivers in most eastern U.S. states face a $150 penalty if they are caught talking and driving. And in Germany, the use of a mobile phone in a car not equipped with a hands-free telephone will be illegal beginning Feb. 1.

Unlike Russia, however, all these countries needed more than just a "strong-willed decision" by a bureaucrat to get a law on the books. The University of Washington in Seattle, for example, did a study that found that when drivers talk on a mobile telephone while the car is moving, their chances of having an accident increase three to six times. According to the U.S. Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the risk of having an accident is "altogether only" two to three times greater while talking on a mobile.

But while the penalty for violating the new law in Russia — assuming it is passed — has not yet been set, a representative of the commission drafting the law said "the fine will be far more serious than that imposed for an unfastened seatbelt."

The reason given for the higher fine is that users of mobile telephones have higher average wages than the general population, the representative said.

Retailers specializing in mobile telephone accessories are rejoicing.

Last summer, when rumors of a possible future ban first swirled, sellers of accessories for mobiles noticed a significant upturn in the demand for equipment that permits drivers to speak on their mobiles without holding a receiver.

"The past six months' demand for hands-free sets has increased several times," said Marina Papekyan of retailer Mobile Center. "Practically half of the users of mobile telephones are acquiring this device. They were prompted by the rumors of the new traffic regulations."

The cheapest variant, costing less than $15, is simply a wire with a microphone and earphones and is not very suitable for cars — the driver can easily become entangled in the wire.

But hands-free equipment with a much better connection especially designed for cars costs $150 or more. "At the moment, we are selling only a few," said Natalya Storozhyeva, sales manager at Orient, which sells such devices. "But we are really hoping [for the law]."