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Kazakhstan moves to strengthen traffic laws
MPs are considering a bill that would punish drivers who violate traffic laws with up to 6 months' imprisonment.
By Alexandra Babkina
ALMATY – The Kazakhstani parliament is considering a new traffic law under which drivers could face up to six months' imprisonment and a five-year driving ban if they're caught breaking the law.
Sixteen moving violations – which authorities have not yet identified – will be subject to these stricter sanctions, according to Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, who described the bill in Astana February 2.
The decision to crack down on bad driving came in response to a January 30 order by President Nursultan Nazarbayev to law enforcement agency chiefs during a meeting on traffic safety.
The law is working its way through parliament, and more details will become available after parliament passes or rejects it, Berik Bisenkulov, chairman of the Traffic Police Committee of the Interior Ministry, said.
"I can say only that drivers convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol will receive a six-month sentence," he told Central Asia Online. "The harsher penalties should improve driving conditions in Kazakhstan and consequently lead to fewer accidents."
Motorists agree on DUI enforcement
That aspect of the bill has public support.
"I agree with the stricter penalties for driving drunk," said Sergey Abramov, an instructor at the Almaty Motors driving school. But work must be done to make sure that all traffic offenders are subject to these laws, he said.
"Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs should be punished severely enough that they no longer do it," added Ilzat Zhaylaubekov, a limousine driver.
But lawyer Vladimir Karatitsky, former director of the Bureau of Legal Research, wondered how evenly it would be enforced.
He and others also wondered whether a new bill alone will help reduce the number of traffic violations in Kazakhstan, which has acknowledged a problem with reckless driving.
Punishment must be unavoidable
Highway safety will improve only if drivers are sure that nobody will accept bribes and that the cited violations will lead to certain punishment, said Sergey Utkin, another lawyer and former member of the Our Truth organisation.
"Punishment must be unavoidable," he said. "Therefore, the traffic police should seek the maximum punishment possible under existing law for traffic offenders and not administer new penalties."
Indeed, more predictable enforcement might be a better solution than stricter penalties, one analyst suggested.
"There must be mandatory enforcement of existing law, and only then should we think about making penalties harsher," Independent Automobile Union of Kazakhstan Chairman Edward Edokov said.
Traffic cameras part of improvement effort
Kanat Sadvakasov, chief of the Almaty traffic police, said officials are aware of the concerns about bribery, and he said officials are using cameras to alleviate those concerns.
"Surveillance cameras have replaced on-duty officers at the roadside," he said. "They're being installed at intersections and in places where the traffic rules are often violated."
Cameras are also being installed in police cars to record violations and the dialogue between the police and the driver, making it almost impossible for drivers to bribe officers, he said.
Sergey Parkhomenko, a taxi driver who supports some elements of the bill, even offered to help police catch offenders. He recently installed cameras that record everything inside and outside his vehicle and said that he would gladly help "blow the whistle" on violators.
"I spend all day at the wheel and see how often and how grossly drivers violate traffic laws," he told Central Asia Online. "Because I'm a professional driver, this angers me."