Video for Violations: Armenian traffic laws to be enforced by camera recording

Beginning from 2007 traffic on Yerevan streets will be monitored by automated systems of video cameras that will come to replace the state automobile agency officers.

214 video cameras and speedometer equipment will be installed at the nine large squares and the streets and crossroads neighboring the squares to register traffic violations.

“Taking into account the increased number of traffic accidents and the vehicles the necessity for large application of modern technical means in maintaining traffic security, public order and security has arisen,” says Vice-Head of the RA Police Hovhannes Hunanyan.

Drivers are expected to greet the cameras as good news, as today’s arbitrary system of fine assessment usually means that drivers are forced to pay $2 to $3 bribes to roadside patrolmen.

(Drivers who refuse to pay the “fines” – most often proved only by the word of the patrolman – face an administrative fine of some $40. Most, then, reluctantly pay at roadside.)

Meruzhan Mkrtchyan, 67, who has been a taxi driver for 40 years, can not imagine he can finally escape having corrupt negotiations with patrol officers.

“It is a usual thing today in Armenia to pay 1000-1500 drams to the policemen whether you have violated rules or not, to escape registration of a violation. And we, the drivers, are forced to give money for reasons or without them, because there is no way to prove your innocence. Maybe we will be able to protect our rights by means of video cameras,” says Mkrtchyan.

The Police Program for State Automobile Inspection improvements has been launched this year and will finish in 2010.

The reforms will be implemented in three stages. During the first stage (2005-2006), for which (for which $1.5 million has been allotted), it is planned to purchase and to install automated systems.

Already within the scope of these changes, the number of patrol officers has been reduced by 100, although the Department of Police will not release numbers, claiming it is a state secret.

“The need for the patrol officers on the roads will be eliminated in case the automated systems are installed,” Hunanyan says. “The violations both by the drivers and the pedestrians will be recorded by the system. Penalties will be decided after their investigation. But it is not decided yet what penalties will be implemented and what will be the mechanisms for them.”

The second stage of changes (for which $2.5 million has been allotted) will come in 2007-8. It provides for installing speedometers on interstate highways and purchasing snowmobiles (presumably for law enforcement in the wintry off-road).

Implementation of the last stage (2009-2010) will call for a $3 million allotment to install traffic control systems in Gyumri, Vanadzor and Echmiadzin. During this period police will also be equipped also with two helicopters.

The “Achilles” Center for protection of drivers’ rights welcomes the expected improvements.

“The video recording will make registration of violations possible; therefore factual evidence will be available,” says president of the center Eduard Hovhannisyan. “This way the presumption of innocence will be introduced and conflicting issues will be regulated within the legal limits. I am confident the number of bribes will decrease, and the drivers will communicate with the policemen in a more civilized way.”

Hovhannisyan, however, believes, improvements will not find place if relevant provisions are not added into Armenia’s Code of Administrative Offence.

“A law on such kind of video recordings should be adopted by all means,” Hovhannisyan says. “Every step should be provided by the law: how the drivers can appeal against court decisions, when the recordings should be deleted . . . After all, recordings are an intrusion into a person’s private life: all these things should be regulated.”