Notes From Hairenik
September 5, 2007

It has become apparent that the traffic police in Yerevan are starting to do their jobs. A few months back all regional border police were fired from their positions, probably as a measure to curb corruption since they didn’t do anything besides pull over random vehicles to extort bribes from their owners. Following that measure soon after was a dismissal of most if not all of the traffic police force in Yerevan.

The results have been staggering. Police officers who have pulled over motorists for breaking the law can be seen writing out tickets with all the corresponding forms laid out on the backs of their cruisers, while the hapless victim looks on biting his nails. This has become a common site throughout central Yerevan, although I have noticed that erratic drivers can get away with a lot more in other parts of the city where traffic police are scarce. Motorists driving too fast bordering on losing control are still widely seen and probably won’t go away very soon, but efforts are underway to control such situations. There is also the issue of unnecessary passing, especially at red lights where impatient drivers cannot wait their turn to go through the intersection and instead pass the row of idling cars to be the first at the stop line—usually they don’t bother waiting for the light to turn green.

Within the last month I have already been pulled over twice in my neighborhood. About four weeks ago, when I was approaching Sakharov Square traveling down Vardanants Street, I failed to stop at the line, which was partially worn anyway. It has become a habit to do so unfortunately because often you see that the traffic light at the far end of the square doesn’t work so you have to roll forward across the line and look at the light on the far right directing perpendicular traffic, waiting for it to turn red. A police cruiser (a compact Peugeot actually) saw what I did and pulled me over. I tried to explain that the line was worn away, but in the next breath I admitted to wrongdoing—there was nothing else to do, I wasn’t about to argue with him. Only yesterday I went through the traffic light situated right below my apartment which I thought was yellow, but according to the police officer traveling behind me, it was red. I was pulled over again at Sakharov Square and after explaining that I believed the light was yellow, I again confessed to breaking the rules. Even if it was yellow I should have stopped, which is what I usually do but instead I was careless. I’ll have to admit that the reckless driving I encounter virtually every minute on the road is affecting my own style of driving, and sometimes I find myself with the mindset that “If others can get away with it why can’t I?” These incidents with the traffic police remind me that those thoughts are dead wrong. On both occasions I was let go when they saw from my Massachusetts driver’s license that I was not a local. But although I was relieved in the first case that I just mentioned, I actually encouraged the police officer to write me the ticket (which would have been a fine of 30,000 dram supposedly) and go through the lawful process.

Since Monday driving on the roads in the morning has been atrocious. Apparently on the first day of school everyone decides to personally take their children there, which is a good thing I suppose but it causes complete chaos. Now it seems that people are finding other ways to transport their kids, perhaps through public transit, but during these past few days I have seen police directing traffic as best as humanly possible at the busiest intersections. They could not manage to stop impatient drivers because it is simply too difficult, but it was a fantastic sight to see the police doing what they are supposed to do.

I am sure that there are cops out there that are still taking bribes, which is most likely the case, and there is much more improvement needed with controlling reckless driving. But the point is that the process in place is working, and I am a witness to the change. Now if only the officers at the registry of motor vehicles stopped taking bribes for handing out licenses without enforcing that people take driving tests to prove they are capable of operating whatever they intend to drive, be it a new Mercedes-Benz or a decrepit Russian jalopy. Apparently some minibus drivers are secured licenses without having prior driving experience which explains their dangerous moves. In any case, although driving is extremely difficult in Yerevan and will remain so for a while, things will start improving before long if the current trend continues.