Ukraine abolishes traffic police

Ukraine’s President Yushchenko has entirely abolished the country’s traffic police.  Yes, that’s right, there are no traffic police on the roads of Kiev today.  Konstantin reports:

For what I know from guys at our Kiev office drivers there are speeding, ignore traffic lights and make U-turns wherever they like. It’s a real festival of disobedience and everyone is happy.

Yushchenko’s decision mirrors a similar experiment in Georgia last year, where President Saakashvili abolished the coutry’s traffic police in a bid to stem corruption and, after a month with no traffic police on the streets at all, replaced them with an entirely new police corps.  However, judging by this New York Times report, the streets of Tbilisi were just as (un)safe without traffic police as they were with them:

First, for a month in Georgia there were almost no traffic police at all, a condition that led one Russian visitor to declare that, in the summer of 2004, it was as if the White Guard had left the city, but the Red Guard had not arrived. According to Saakashvili, the accident rate held steady, which says more about the ineffectiveness of the former police than about the defensive driving habits of Georgian drivers.

Konstantin goes on to make the serious point that, underlying the culture of traffic police corruption not only in Ukraine, but in Russia too, is the very real problem of excessively high traffic fines.  It is often far more cost effective for a driver to pay a small bribe than to go through the lengthy, not to mention expensive, process of paying a government fine.

What is better – to pay a 3000 rubles official fine or a 500 rubles bribe?

I can see the logic in this, and would be very happy to see the level of these fines reduced.  3,000 roubles is approximately $100, a level which most Americans would feel unhappy about paying, let alone a Russian on his far lower salary.  And who knows, if more people pay a lower fine, overall government revenues could actually increase at the same time as hitting corruption.

I find it far harder to agree with this statement, though:

Russian policemen don’t stop drivers who don’t break rules of the road. There are too few of them, anyway. Second, policemen rarely ask for a bribe themselves – almost always drivers start bargaining.

If I were a Russian traffic policeman, knowing that payment of an official fine would be financially crippling to the average motorist, I’d certainly be tempted to offer them the choice of making a far smaller payment directly to me instead.  Just think about it – ten 500 rouble bribes received is roughly the equivalent of a months wages.  Wouldn’t you be tempted?

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