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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

More Women and Fewer Hotshots

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Many Russians consider Europe to be the epitome of correct behavior on the roads. This is true, but it is largely due to the fact that fines for road violations in Europe are extremely high. Up until now, the fines in Russia were symbolic at best. Three hundred rubles is nothing for an owner of an expensive imported car. The purpose of levying fines is not to simply take money from drivers. There is a much more important function: They should be a mechanism to ensure that obeying the rules of the road becomes more advantageous than breaking the law.

But today it is much more advantageous to break the law because you can save a lot of time in doing so. Moreover, the chances that you have to pay a fine are not that high.

The other aspect of the problem is that fines are levied rather selectively. Every driver thinks that he will be able to slip by the traffic police officer and only the other driver will get caught. This is especially true if several cars in a row are breaking the law because the traffic police usually stop only the first few cars.

In Europe, virtually all road violations are caught by special cameras. Russia is a long way from adopting this kind of technology. And this kind of change would take time.

For now, the first step that authorities have taken is to increase the amount of fines for road violations. They were increased on Aug. 10, and further increases will take effect on Jan. 1. Many critics claim that these measures will only lead to an increase in the amount of money that traffic officers extort from drivers. Even if this were the case, if an increase in fines is large enough, it can force drivers to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages of breaking the law.

Fines have now grown fivefold for many violations. Drivers caught driving in the opposite lane will lose their driver's license for up to six months. It is a common occurrence when law-abiding drivers, returning from their dachas on Sunday, curse the insolent hotshots on the road who are racing along the opposite lane to bypass drivers who are obeying the law, waiting in the slow-moving traffic.

It would seem that the violators gain an advantage on the roads, while those who obey the law lose out. Even more irritating is when these hotshots try to squeeze back into line at a stoplight or at an upcoming traffic police control point. This only slows traffic flow even more. If there weren't these daredevils creating so many jams (and accidents), traffic would move at least 15 percent faster.

The worst traffic accidents, of course, are tied to speeding, but minor accidents are caused largely by drivers' lack of attention -- which is most often caused by talking on mobile phones while driving. Not only is the drivers' attention diverted but their hands are as well. Now, with the increased fines, if a driver is caught talking on the phone without a hands-free device, he will have to pay a 300-ruble fine. This is a good reason not to talk.

Another problem is that seat belts are not seen as a safety means but as a nuisance. One often hears about terrible car accidents where drivers came out alive only because they were not wearing seat belts. When this argument is used, however, no one bothers to mention that these types of cases are extremely rare. I am confident that the increase in fines from 100 rubles to 500 rubles for failing to fasten seat belts will help to change drivers' attitudes.

There is an old joke about the person who went to driving school: "I don't know how to drive, but I have a head start because I already hate pedestrians!" In discussing the problems on the roads, you must speak not only about the drivers' bad habits, but also about those of pedestrians. Everyone knows that drivers often do not stop for people crossing along the pedestrian walkway. We also know very well the problem of cars that are parked on the sidewalk and of drivers who actually drive on the sidewalk.

But this does not take away from the responsibility of pedestrians to cross the street only at designated areas and at stoplights. Under the new law, pedestrians who get in the way of traffic are now subject to a fine of 300 rubles (it was 100 rubles before), and this fine jumps to 1,000 to 1,500 rubles if someone suffers a light or medium injury as a result of a violation.

An analysis of the accident rate in Moscow shows that in 50 percent of all car accidents, pedestrians suffer some form of bodily injury. Of these cases, quite often pedestrians were at fault because they crossed the street at an unauthorized crossing or violated the rules of the road in some other way. According to data from the traffic authorities, 265,301 pedestrians were fined for various violations on streets in 2006.

You cannot seriously discuss the issue of traffic fines without touching on the issue of corruption. If you are a driver, you are probably familiar with the situation when a traffic officer stops you and offers to settle the issue by paying the official fine (that is, according to the law), or by paying a somewhat lower amount, which is unofficial -- meaning, of course, that it ends up in the officer's pocket. Many drivers agree to the unofficial fine not so much to save money but to save time. To resolve an ordinary traffic violation officially, a driver has to spend at the very least half a workday at the traffic police station.

About every six months we see on television how another "werewolf in epaulets" -- a term used to describe mainly police and traffic officers who abuse their authority for material gain -- has been detained for taking bribes. This, of course is nothing but a show, and most Russians watch these scenes on television with a grin -- albeit a bitter one because they know that these public relations charades do very little to solve the systemic problem of corruption. I don't want to unjustifiably accuse all traffic police officers of corruption, but there are a lot more dishonest than honest traffic police officers. This is a difficult problem to solve, but we must start by drastically increasing the level of punishment for officers who take bribes.

There is another interesting idea that has been tried in regions outside of Moscow: recruiting more women to become officers. Women, in general, possess a special character trait: They don't take bribes. Perhaps it is because they have a higher degree of responsibility, or perhaps they are simply more afraid of getting caught. Whatever the reason, the government needs to more widely exploit this gender advantage and attract more women to the ranks.

I support increasing fines for traffic violations, but we need to avoid the intrinsically Russian trap of thinking that the severity of the laws is compensated by the fact that it is not necessary to abide by the laws. The law has to be strictly applied everywhere and for everyone.

Ivan Novitsky is a deputy in the Moscow City Duma and head of the Union of Right Forces Moscow branch.