Public Council Takes On Police Traps
Published: September 19, 2012 (Issue # 1727)
The St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Public Council of the Russian Interior Ministry has taken action over the so-called “traps” set by local traffic police (GIBDD).
Nikolai Kropachev, head of the council, said they had received many complaints from drivers, saying that local traffic police officers often take advantage of a number of unclear or confusing road signs and markings in the city in order to fine car owners.
“Police often punish drivers in locations where the organization of traffic is not clear enough,” Kropachev, who is also the head of St. Petersburg State University and a qualified lawyer, said at a news conference last week.
“The duty of the traffic police is not only to stop and discipline drivers, but also to prevent violations of the law. Therefore, if instead of doing so, a police officer just stands there and waits for infractions to take place, then he is in violation of his duty,” Kropachev said.
Kropachev appealed on behalf of the public council to drivers in the city and the Leningrad Oblast to inform his organization about similar problems on the roads.
Alexander Kholodov, deputy head of the council, showed several video clips of confusing locations where drivers were regularly fined by police.
One of those places was an exit from the city’s Admiralteisky Canal embankment, where a sign prohibiting a turn was obscured by scaffolding on the neighboring building. The traffic police would lie in wait there, catching and fining drivers who made the illegal turn because they couldn’t see the sign.
Kholodov said when the council learnt about the case it immediately contacted the city’s Road Traffic Organization Directorate, which is responsible for road signs and markings, and the problem was resolved within a day.
The video also showed a traffic police car that made its home in a spot on Ulitsa Bestuzhevskaya, where for reasons that were unclear, drivers were also constantly caught for violations. At the exit from Pulkovo I airport, a one-way sign was missing, Kholodov said.
Kholodov also mentioned a spot on Serebristy Bulvar where drivers were regularly stopped by traffic police who had already filled out the violation report: The only thing missing from the forms was the driver’s name and the time of the violation.
One St. Petersburg driver who asked only to be identified by her first name, Natalya, said she had been stopped by traffic police for making a turn where it had always been legal to do so. In a scenario familiar to many drivers, the markings on the road itself had not been changed, the new sign was not clearly visible, and traffic police officers were waiting there to catch unwitting drivers.
“I was eight months pregnant and on my way to the doctor’s for a checkup,” Natalya told The St. Petersburg Times. “Yes, I did break the rules because I didn’t notice the new sign. I was all set to pay the official fine when it emerged that my annual safety inspection certificate had just expired, and if they had issued me with an official fine, I would have had to leave my car at the pound. So we agreed on an ‘unofficial fine’ — a bribe — but I didn’t have enough cash on me. The officers were polite enough to drive me to the ATM, having asked me which bank I needed, and drove me back again so that I didn’t lose my parking space!
“I went and renewed my safety inspection certificate the very next day,” she added.
Sergei Zaichenkov, deputy head of the Road Traffic Organization Directorate, said the police had the authority to issue orders to fix road markings or signage problems if they were aware of them.
Zaichenkov said that problems with signage often arise due to construction work.
“The contractors of those works are supposed to inform our organization about them and obtain permission. However, often those contractors do not inform us about their activities and we remain unaware of them. Therefore we’d also like to ask drivers to inform us about such problematic spots,” he said.
Alexei Sumin, deputy head of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Road Police, said local police receive up to 50 claims a day about traffic problems on their website and that they review them.
Sumin said from 10 to 20 percent of traffic police officers are disciplined if they are found guilty of inappropriate conduct when dealing with drivers.
“Complaints are normally successful if drivers write a counter statement and are able to explain clearly the details of the police violation,” Sumin said.
Kropachev said he knew from his experience as a lawyer that drivers can win cases in which they have been punished incorrectly if they have good legal support.