KIEV, Ukraine -- Europe's most dangerous roads and greediest traffic cops are in the same place - the former Soviet republic Ukraine, said President Viktor Yushchenko during a televised meeting with law enforcers.
Some 7,500 people lost their lives in Ukrainian road accidents in 2006, a 20 per cent increase over 2005. The year 2007 is on track (nearly 7,000 by mid-November) to be even deadlier, making a car trip in Ukraine four times riskier than in France or Belgium, and eight times more dangerous than in Germany, an indignant Yushchenko claimed.
"What kind of statistic is that? It is a direct reflection of the way you work!" the Orange Revolution leader told a glum auditorium filled with the leadership of the country's DAI traffic police force. "You are doing your jobs badly, and unprofessionally ... you should be ashamed."
The Ukrainian president's last visit to DAI headquarters, in July 2005, ended with a furious Yushchenko, a supporter of European politics and standards in Ukraine, declaring the organization dissolved.
Yushchenko's decision to wipe the DAI off the bureaucratic books (it never really worked) came after a notorious June 2005 road trip with Yushchenko at the wheel of an unmarked government sedan. Traffic cops looking to cash in on invented traffic violations halted Yushchenko eight times over a 600-kilometre route.
"The assembled DAI leadership received the president's Monday comments in silence," Ukrainska Pravda reported. A few colonels busily scribbled notes.
Yushchenko during the tirade ticked off several nasty DAI tactics long familiar to most Ukrainian drivers. Police place traffic signs not for public safety, but where they will snare the most unwary motorists.
Speeding law is ignored, but advertising signs are scrupulously controlled by DAI officers, the better to bring ad sign registration fees into the DAI budget.
Extortion of bribes from motorists is not just tolerated, but expected by mid-level police managers as they get a cut.
Korrespondent magazine in an article entitled "The situation on Ukrainian roads is becoming a national disaster" singled out "a total absence of punishment" as one reason Ukraine's traffic police seem so uninterested in enforcing traffic law properly.
A typical fine for a simple traffic violation in Ukraine - for instance running a stop sign or driving with a broken tail light - averages between $2 and $4 dollars.
A drunk driving conviction carries a license suspension averaging six months, but only after a court trial, and if the vehicle is needed for the driver to work, then most judges will throw out the suspension. The fine if assessed averages between $40 and $80 dollars.
"In fact, traffic police have very few tools with which they can influence driver behaviour," argued Evhen Kravets, a traffic police spokesman, in Fakty newspaper. "How can we tell if a particular citizen happens to be doing what a court told him?"
Even avoiding a manslaughter rap after running down a hapless pedestrian has, in Ukraine, its unofficial price. Provided the victim had no important friends or his family money, as little as $5,000 dollars split between the judge and state prosecutor will usually get the case thrown out, according to the Ukrainska Kriminala web site.
Another contributing factor to DAI inefficiency is officer salaries equivalent to $300 dollars a month, producing a 70 per cent annual turnover in DAI personnel, Fakty reported.
"With that kind of salary and retention rate it is naive to expect honest enforcement of the law," Korrespondent noted.
Danger levels on Ukrainian roads are heightened, Yushchenko said, because police corruption extends off the roads.
A driver's license without having to take the test - or indeed knowing how to drive - costs in Ukraine's black market from $200 to $500 dollars.
A vehicle inspection without the inspector runs around $50 dollars, depending on the make and age of the auto not being inspected.
The Ukrainian leader at the end of the meeting gave police bosses "six months or else" to show substantial improvement.
The DAI colonels and generals "showed no particular reaction to that demand either," Ukrainska Pravda reported.
Source: Earth Times