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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Seeks to Boost Fines for Bad Driving

The State Duma is moving to increase fines for reckless motorists to slash roadway deaths, prompting activists to denounce the plan as one-sided, ineffective and unfair.

The measure, which passed the first of three readings on Friday, would ­increase the fines paid by motorists "to the extent that no one would want to pay them," Duma Speaker Boris ­Gryzlov said.

The measure follows comments by President Vladimir Putin over the past two years demanding that the government take steps to lower the number of driving deaths from the current 35,000 per year.

Running a red light would jump to $58 from $3.80; drivers could also lose‑their licenses for up to four months.

Similarly, driving without a seat belt would rise to $12 from $1.90; driving without a license, registration, insurance policy and mechanic's certificate would carry a fine of $12, up from the current $1.90.

Driving with a suspended license would cost drivers just shy of $100 or up to another year's suspension. If the driver is drunk, the penalty would be double or 15 days in jail.

Besides imposing higher fines, the bill would also lengthen the period of time licenses can be suspended and ­allow officials to tow improperly parked cars.

It would also hold car owners responsible for violations committed with their cars, even if they were not driving at the time; those whose cars‑had been stolen would be exempted.

And the bill would allow police to conduct alcohol breathalyzer tests. Drivers would be permitted to refuse to be tested, in which case they would be sent to certified medics.

Other frequent violations -- stopping in a pedestrian crosswalk, driving on sidewalks, failing to signal, making a right turn from the wrong lane and ­illegally pulling a U-turn or driving in reverse -- would also be targeted.

Motorists' rights groups said curbing traffic deaths requires a multipronged approach that includes reforming the traffic police, better roads and faster ambulances, adding that higher fines would simply mean bigger bribes for police.

"Milking drivers is the easiest way to take care of this problem, but road safety also depends on other factors that are crying out for attention," said Vyacheslav Lysakov, head of the group Freedom of Choice.

Leonid Olshansky, vice president of the Movement of Russia's Motorists, added that the new fines would violate the principle of social justice. "Fines should be commensurate with people's incomes," he said. "Should a provincial school teacher who earns 5,000 rubles a month pay half of it for driving on the sidewalk?"

But the bill does aim to cut down on abusive traffic police, raising the fines to be paid by officers who illegally stop motorists to $770.

The bill's authors, who include a series of United Russia deputies led by Security Committee Chairman Vladimir Vasilyev, argue that the current fines are outdated.

In an explanatory note attached to the bill, they point out that the current penalty regime was approved in 2001. Since then, they say, average incomes have risen, making the current fines "inadequate."

What's more, defenders of the bill say, drunk drivers remain a serious problem. Last year, they accounted for 17,000 traffic accidents, which left 2,500 people dead and injured another 25,000, said Viktor Katrenko, the Duma's deputy speaker.

Motorists had mixed feelings about the measure, which must still clear two more readings at the Duma and get the president's signature before it becomes law.

"I believe there will be fewer violations," said Mercedes owner Viktor Petrov. "Myself, I'm not going to risk losing any money driving on sidewalks."

Minivan driver Alexander Krestinsky was less convinced that the measure would have the desired effect. "People who drive dangerously now are going to keep driving dangerously because there is almost definitely still going to be an opportunity to cut a deal with a traffic cop. The mentality is what has to be changed."