Thursday, 3 September 2009

Police harassment

I am officially getting a bee in my bonnet about Kazakh police and their traffic control measures. Husband was stopped three times in under an hour last Sunday. Admittedly, we had lost our front bumper in an unfortunate traffic incident - more of that on another rant. But we still had our license plate attached  (yellow for foreigners, instead of white for locals, making us all the more easy to pick out of the flow). Considering that I have seen Ladas here literally tied together with string and still on the road, the fact that our Landcruiser was looking a little less pretty than normal does not seem due cause to be stopping him every 100 metres down the road. 

They don't have to have an excuse to pull you over, they just wave the red wand while eye-balling you, and you must stop.  

There are numerous, onerous bits of notarised paperwork that you must carry around in your car here to be legal on the road. We have a folder with each piece of paper in a plastic wallet in the glove compartment. These documents are meticulously checked every month by our driver to make sure they are valid, in date, fully notarised. Baktiyar (driver) studies the new issues of the highway code intensely for weeks after it comes out. He stops sleeping in the car while waiting around, and can be found poring over the booklet until he knows every fine, offense and new legislation that has come in since the last pamphlet was published. These usually include a lot of  rules that are so silly that sometimes you don't believe them at first. Like the new rule that when you are driving out of the city limits (from inside of the city) even if it is midday and the sun is cracking the sky, you must switch on your headlights. If you do not, the fine is 6000 tenge (40 US dollars). Probably it is 6278 tenge - all the fines are bizarre numbers as if a bored policeman has allowed his 2 year-old-son to type the numbers in randomly while sitting on his lap in his smoke-filled, peeling-paint-walled office. Why do you have to put your lights on? Has the Union of Car Head Lamp Manufacturers been having dinner with the chief of police again? 

Some people believe that by feigning a lack of Russian-language skills they will escape the fine. This does not work all the time, and some policemen speak English, so you can't really get away with that. A friend of mine babbles away in Spanish (definitely less common and they don't know what to do with her, so she has been safe so far). I once just pretended that I hadn't noticed a policeman waving me over and drove off, but someone later told me that they can fire their guns after you if you do that, so I don't do that anymore. 

With 100 lessons under his belt, husband has now decided that he will speak as much Russian as he can and see if he can argue his way out of a fine. So first time he was stopped last weekend, he argued that he wasn't due to pay a fine, the car was road worthy: it had been checked and certified road worthy, and his head of HR had checked for him with the police so there was no need for a fine. He called said HR head but she did not pick up, policeman took pity and let him go. At the second policeman, my husband told him he had just paid a fine to the first policeman who had stopped him five minutes previously, and didn't he just think that would be too unfair (even for a corrupt official) to do it again? He was let off. The third little piggy was not so kind and fined him for not carrying the original of his driving license (a new regulation which we did not know) and "fined" him 2000 tenge (only 15 dollars, but annoying for not really doing anything wrong - we had a notarised colour copy of the scabby little bit of paper that is our UK driving license in the car). So frustrating. 

We were stopped AGAIN the following morning on the way to school - Baktiyar was driving at about 65km/h in a 60 limit. No fine that time, but honestly, all the other cars on the road were going at the same speed. Yellow plates. Agh! 

We had a friend here who used to drive an Audi 4WD OffRoad - a snazzy, fast car. He paid so many fines for speeding that eventually he drove everywhere on cruise control. Then he bought a Lada Niva as a second car/run around (this is a kind of 4WD soviet mini-jeep, much beloved of locals and actually pretty cool I think) and still got stopped, but found that the standard fine went down from 5000 tenge to 2000! 

1 comment:

  1. We have to drive with our headlights on ALL the time here. Actually, I've got quite used to it now and will probably continue the habit back in the UK.

    The police here tend to leave us alone. Waaay too much hassle for them, but we miraculously lose all our Bosnian speaking ability whenever stopped, and they can't be bothered with dealing with that. Oh, and a campaign against corruption has made it a bit more difficult to issue random fines.

    Sometimes I almost feel sorry for them, bored, just wanting a coffee, cold, wet and miserable!