Reckless Russian drivers face crackdown

Drivers in Russia could soon face tougher fines for reckless driving. The Russian Federation Council has approved tougher fines for excessive speeding and other violations, like using a cell phone without a hands free device.

There're plenty of car accidents in Moscow and plenty of work for police. Collisions happen dozens of time a day and create huge traffic jams.

Statistics are shocking. Thousands die in road accidents in Russia every year. It's not getting any better. In 2003, there were 34,000,000 officially registered driving violations. In 2006 the number reached 45,960,000.

Russia's lawmakers have taken action. They have passed a bill, increasing fines sixfold for reckless driving. The new regulation is a lot tougher than the old one. Driving 60 kph or more above the speed limit will cost the driver around $US 100 and even losing his driving license for up to six months. The current fine is about $US 15-20 with the license being taken away for a maximum of four months.

People are rude on the road and often careless. But will the new fines make a difference? Some drivers welcome tougher legislation.

“Yes, we need such fines. Something must be done for safety on the roads,” says one of them.

Others accuse police of corruption and say the whole system must be changed.

“Road police must have technical proof that a person has broken a rule, like not wearing a safety belt. If there is proof, then no one will argue who is right or wrong. Police will simply produce a photo of the driver without a safety belt and there will be no point in arguing,” says another driver.

Using a cell phone without a hands free device is also against the law. An estimated one out of three drivers already breaks that rule. Driving without a license would cost nearly $US 200. For drinking and driving a driver could go to jail.

Many say curbing traffic deaths requires a wider approach – reforming traffic police and improving roads. Higher fines, they say, will simply mean bigger bribes.

“If fines are like that, then road police will simply take bribes and will double their own salaries. So on the face of it there will be less official violations but in reality the amount of accidents will stay the same,” believes Alexander Pikulenko, Motoring expert from Echo Moskvy radio station.

The new law will also mean steep fines for motorcyclists, many now don't even bother to stop – when stopped.

Speeding, cell phones and carelessness are the main causes of car accidents. It's still to be seen if higher fines would make a difference. But for the road police the answer is simple – don't break the rules and you'll be OK.