Between the first and second rounds of the presidential election, the issue of public security has become particularly acute, and law enforcement officers have to work in an enhanced mode. However, no one frees them from other tasks. One of these tasks for patrol officers is to ensure road safety; first of all, it is the fight against violation of traffic regulations and, as a result, against road accidents, which continue to be the major death cause on the roads. Oleksii Biloshytsky, the First Deputy Head of the Department of Patrol Police Officers of Ukraine, told Opinion how it works.
Oleksii, the first round of elections is behind, what violations or provocations did you face those days and what should be the task for the run-off?
Speaking in numbers, from March 31 to April 2, the Police received 2,690 allegations and reports related to violations of the electoral process. On these facts, 71 criminal proceedings were initiated. In addition, the Police have drawn up 50 administrative protocols. In general, we are talking about illegal campaigning, photographing of ballots, voter bribery, damaging ballots, false reports of mining and attempts to remove ballots from the polling station.
In fact, all policemen, and patrolmen also, have the same task ‒ to ensure legality and the observance of law and order. Therefore, we have reacted and will continue to react to any offenses during the electoral process. On election day, patrol officers were at polling stations, where they observed that there were no violations or attempts to disrupt the elections. If something happened somewhere, they reacted instantly and transferred information to a special focal point operating in the National Police. So, we will work the same way during the second round.
Patrol Police work is primarily associated with road safety, but terrible accidents occur almost every day. How can this be prevented?
First, let’s analyze the problem with the numbers in our hands. I recently studied the statistics of road traffic accidents (RTA), starting in 2006, and long before the Patrol Police appeared. And during this period, the accident rate decreased almost threefold.
Despite these figures, I would not say that the result that we have now is a great achievement. We have positive dynamics, but the indicators are still high, so we have to do more. Something has already been done. For example, certain changes in legislation have been adopted that allow influencing the situation. But what has been done is not enough. For example, there are very significant legislative changes that were proposed by the Minister of the Interior, but they are still pending consideration.
It is about the bill number 7286 – on amendments to some legislative acts of Ukraine regarding the strengthening of responsibility for certain offenses in the field of road safety, which was registered in the Verkhovna Rada in 2017?
Yes. It should solve a number of tasks related to ensuring the safety of the situation on the roads. And we, for our part, are doing everything we have the authority and opportunity to do. Last year and the year before last, the number of Traffic Police patrol crews was significantly increased. And this is not after July 2018, when there were accidents involving long-distance minibusses, as some might think. Then special measures were taken, an operation was carried out, but such things are periodic. And I’m talking about the standard stable work aimed at combating accidents on the roads, when 200 crews of road Police patrol routes of international and national importance every day, even every shift, 24/7. And this is more than 6,000 kilometers of roads. In addition, any crew of the Patrol Police, wherever it patrols – in a city or somewhere – also responds to violations of the road safety (RS).
But not everything depends on the Patrol Police ‒ many factors affect road safety. This is the quality of the roadway itself, and the organization of traffic, the presence of markings, barriers, underground/overpasses, are the terrestrial pedestrian crossings lighted or not, are there safety islands or not, also the organization of movement of cars in a circle, the correct setting of traffic lights, and many others moments. If we are talking about the organization of traffic, there is the responsibility of the owners of the roads or those structures that are responsible for maintaining them. In the cities, this is the local administration. If this is the route of international importance then Ukravtodor is responsible for it.
However, in our country, road safety is still habitually associated only with the controlling authority – the Patrol Police. I am talking only about the practical aspects of the problem, but still, there is an aspect of legal awareness, legal culture and the education of our citizens. Let’s face it, many accidents with serious consequences occur due to blatant disregard for the rules. Through driving while intoxicated, due to speeding. Even if we get the ideal laws, until we change the legal consciousness and legal culture of people, it is difficult to count on a substantial result. No matter how much we explain, how much we would patrol, if people are not educated correctly, we will only achieve intermediate results. Therefore, we are also involved in educational work.
Is it the “School Police Officer” project?
Yes. Now it has grown to the direction of our activities. Officers interact with school children, relying on their work on new standards and approaches. For example, during a role-playing game, they tell how to observe the rules of the road, how to act correctly on the road in a given situation. And the children then, and this is very important, share their own knowledge with their parents, pointing out their mistakes. Although we work not only with school children we hold preventive conversations, especially in the case of traffic violations on the road, with all segments of the population, but education should definitely begin from childhood.
Role-playing is good, but earlier in schools, this issue was taken seriously. There were training centers, where graduate students could get a professional driver’s license. And they were studying for two years the same traffic rules in such centers. Perhaps it is worth reviving such a practice?
Although the Patrol Police is not engaged in schools for drivers, the idea itself seems interesting to me. Therefore, it is necessary to study this question, and only then think about some initiatives.
Oleksii, you said that there are loopholes in the legislation that make it difficult to take care of road safety. What kind of loopholes are we talking about?
For example, we draw up a protocol on the administrative responsibility of the violator for driving while intoxicated. These cases go to court, and then there is a paradoxical development of events – the case is closed for insignificance. That is, the court, while considering this case, decides that this is an insignificant act, as for me, this is one of the most serious acts stipulated in the Administrative Offenses Code of Ukraine (AOCU). Sometimes such cases are transferred to the labor collective.
Is this still exist?
Yes. This Soviet practice has been preserved. The current code was adopted in 1984, so these Soviet mechanisms are enshrined there. The driver-offender, who works at the enterprise can be transferred on bail to the labor collective.
And what, do they really transfer?
Of course, but the question is, how effective and efficient is this? Does the driver-violator understand his responsibility when he is scolded and that’s all? The case is closed. Do you think he will draw the right conclusions from this situation? Of course not.
What should change immediately in case of approval of the mentioned bill?
We will not be able to close the cases for insignificance, pass them on for consideration to the labor collective, and the like. Separately, I want to say about the topic of intoxicated driving. In 2017, more than 114,000 such facts were recorded. In 2018, there were more than 110,000. That is, despite a significant increase in the size of fines, from year to year we have almost the same level.
Why? The most important thing is that the principle of inevitability of punishment is not fully ensured. Protocols are drawn up, cases are brought to court, but somehow the accountability does not occur, the person is not punished for such an act. Secondly, we still do not have an effective mechanism for identifying such violations, and draft law No. 7286 also provides a solution to this problem.
Do you offer to stop and check all on the breathalyzer? But we supposedly cannot stop without a reason?
In the 35th article of the Law on the National Police now there are already 10 grounds when a policeman has the right to stop a car, and there are really no grounds for suspicion of alcohol use. And let’s turn to foreign experience. In the EU, they have long been successfully fighting drunk driving. How? Applying the mechanism of sudden inspections, during which, in certain places, or at a certain time, the entire or selectively flow of vehicles is stopped and the survey is carried out on the state of intoxication. In Poland, there is even such an action, called “Sober Monday”. Such checks take a minimum time of drivers, but they are very effective. In our country, for now, they are guided by the principle “innocent until proven guilty”, and this should not be so.
Often, accidents with serious consequences occur with the participation of rich kids, but often the “authors” of such accidents remain unpunished. The Kharkiv situation, when the court decided on 10 years imprisonment for the perpetrators of the accident, can be considered almost an exception. How, in general, to influence famous people or their children, who are not friendly with the rules of the road?
I disagree with you here a little. Because for me personally, as a policeman, it makes no difference who is driving, if this person is an infringer, and his or her actions caused not even an accident with serious consequences, but simply an accident. And by one’s actions, the Patrol Police have long proved that there is no difference for them, a People’s Deputy or some official, driving a Lanos or a Lexus. We bring to justice all violators of traffic rules.
You can be sure that all categories of citizens of Ukraine are violating. Famous people account for a small proportion, they are simply known – and public attention is glued to them. And it seems to people that accidents involving rich kids are bloodier, but they are just resonant. Just yesterday and the day before yesterday there were serious accidents where there were no rich kids. We published this information on our website, but no one talks about it, because no one knows these people, and society is not interested. It is necessary to educate not only rich kids but everybody if it is a question of instilling respect for the law.
When there was an accident in Kharkiv with the participation of Olena Zaitseva, then it was a question of her taking part in auto racing, although, then it was allegedly not confirmed. But in general, are such races common? Who takes part in them?
Racing really does happen. To say that often, it is impossible. We are categorically against such “entertainment” and stop this offense, wherever it is recorded and whoever would not take part in this race. People that participate in them are different, cars – also different. There are with 3,000 USD prizes, and there are with 300,000 USD.
Very often, accidents are caused by pedestrians who ignore the rules. Is it possible to really affect such violators?
This is a global problem, everything depends on the upbringing in the family, the personal example of parents. Imagine a situation: the road has three lanes in both directions, and suddenly a pedestrian flows through all these 6 lanes and also jumps over the bump stop that is in the middle. To the police saying, “What are you doing? You could be hit by a car. The pedestrian cross is just in 10-15 meters…” we hear, “I need to cross here!”
The problem is that someone at some stage put everyone in the head, that the pedestrian is always right. And if the driver is guilty and he is brought to justice, will it return the health or even life to the injured pedestrian? No. Pedestrians in our country, reaching the “zebra”, go without looking at the road. It is not right. And in the rules that are really written in blood, it is clearly stated that a pedestrian has to make sure of his own safety. Also, it is forbidden to suddenly go out or run out on the roadway, even at a pedestrian crossing.
Therefore, we regularly carry out the operation “Pedestrian”, the next one starts the other day, we will inform you about its results later. What are we doing? We stop violators, we explain that they not only frame the drivers (here we must understand that a car that has a solid mass moves according to the laws of physics and cannot suddenly stop even if the driver reacts immediately), but they don’t think about their own life and health. 85 UAH fine, which must pay a pedestrian-violator, cannot be compared with the responsibility that the driver is paying for violation today. Here it is necessary to change the approaches, there is still the inevitability of punishment and effective detection mechanisms.
As a pedestrian, do you cross the road in an unspecified place?
You know, I am not a saint and I was not a saint before I became a policeman, but, understanding the consequences of such actions, I do not run across the road for a long time. And I do not advise others to do this, because it is really dangerous.
What about the crews of patrolmen who violate traffic rules? This is a turn through a double white line and many other points. Because if people see such things, no matter what the penalties are, someone will always think “if they can do it…”
I understand that you saw it personally. Back then the crew rode with flashing beacons turned on?
No, just driving. And, by the way, the speed mode was also not followed.
After all, it is the patrol car, as a specialized vehicle, that, according to the rules, can deviate from the traffic rules if it moves with flashing beacons and an audible warning, or without it. Otherwise, we are talking about a violation for which we bring our employees to disciplinary responsibility.
And how many of those, who violated traffic rules, were brought?
A lot. Last year alone, almost 4,000 official investigations were carried out in the Patrol Police department, which were caused by various offenses. We have more than 12,000 patrol officers, so this investigation was conducted on every third. Therefore, to say that we close our eyes to any illegal actions of our employees will be wrong.
If an accident occurs due to the police crew, then it is clear, but how do you reveal the usual disregard for the traffic rules?
We have “24/7” regime in each Patrol Police administration that has monitoring units. Their task is to supervise the observance of legality, discipline in divisions.
How do they do it technically: the patrols keep order, and the staff of this monitoring service controls the patrols?
Yes, among the crews of Patrol Police, working in cities, there is the monitoring crew. It can be on a specialized or unspecialized car. That is, it can be seen, or it cannot be seen. Moreover, this crew sees where all the patrol crews are located, notices a lot of violations, so this is a systematic struggle, which is yielding fruit.
And is there the statistics on the number of accidents caused by the Police?
There is. If you take the general picture of the accidents, then the fault of the Police is something about 36-38%. Last year, on the territory of Ukraine, with the participation of Patrol Police cars, 596 accidents occurred, of which 144 were due to patrol officers. From January 1 to March 27 of this year – 126 accidents with the participation, of which 35 – accidents caused by the Patrol Police officers.
Isn’t it too much? Shouldn’t policemen drive in such a way as to be an example for other drivers?
This is a misconception. Imagine the situation: the crew received an urgent call – where a person was robbed or beaten. The patrol car rides with the red and blue beacons turned on, it needs to turn around, it gives a signal and performs a maneuver. But drivers, who drive close, are not always attentive to what is happening on the road. And when an accident occurs, the patrol officer, who did not take into account the situation will be guilty. Although, he did everything in his power for people to see him.
You cannot compare the patrol mode, the official use of a specialized vehicle and the mode when a person just goes to work, home or to the store. A patrol officer has dozens of situations for a shift, where he needs to react quickly, quickly get to the crime scene. It may even be a call in the case of a family altercation… Or a carriage that pursues the offender is driving. People need to understand those Police activities are carried out in the Police mode.
We communicated with colleagues from other countries, studied the experience of the USA, Europe. Do you think the Police there are not crashing cars? They crash even more than we do. I told you as it really is. And this is perceived normally there, because the Policemen patrol, do their job, and not just go for a drive. And the risk of getting into an accident under such conditions is much higher than that of someone, who drives home quietly. And the extremes of individual situations increase these risks several times.
There are also cases when patrolmen get into accidents only by their own carelessness or negligence. We track this and hold them accountable.
Do your subordinates take extreme driving courses?
When our department just appeared, they were not there. Then it was necessary to launch a new structure quickly. We did it. There were some miscalculations, but we learn from our mistakes. Now we have emergency driving courses for acting policemen. And there is already the Academy of Patrol Police – a specialized institution that trains Police officers. There they take a 6-month training program that includes such courses. This is an example of working on our own mistakes – we saw that it was necessary, and we introduced it.
Now the attention of the society is focused on the launch of the system of automatic fixing of violations. It should have appeared last year, but was postponed until the summer, and then by the autumn of this year. Is this the final date?
As the Minister of the Interior said in his interview, this system will be implemented before the end of the year. You know, many do not know why the term is shifting. I will explain quite simply. There was already an attempt to do it in 2007-2010, but the system was unsuccessful and did not last long. The reason is that it was introduced with big legislative problems. As for me, we are talking about technical and system problems in general, because the system was launched hastily. And a number of loopholes in the legislation, which were at that time, then nullified all the work – and in the end, the Constitutional Court leveled it out completely, declaring it illegal.
Will it be different now?
It will, but we need a systematic fundamental approach: when this system works, one person should not have any doubts about the correctness of bringing to justice, if this happens. It is his or her car, there was a violation, that everything is in accordance with the law and the like. It is taking into account all the factors, and the system is being built now. We also joined this process, although the Patrol Police is not the main unit, it solves this problem.
A lot has already been done for this, in particular, a number of legislative changes have been adopted. Now we are in the final stage. A few more strokes – and the system will work. And then, as Minister aptly said, the society will be shocked by the volume of offenses, which will automatically fix surveillance cameras. People will get used to it for a long time, but such a shock therapy is needed: it is better to pay a fine once and think further, to fly at high speed or not, rather than drive up to an accident. In other countries, such a system has long been introduced, and it works well for reducing the accident rate.
Are there any predicted numbers of traffic violations?
Predicted numbers of the volume of offenses? One camera, which was installed in Kyiv on Olena Teliga street, recorded more than 20,000 offenses during one month. This is serious.
How many cameras are planned to be used? Would the map be published?
The map will be open, we are not going to hide anything. Our employees together with the Main service center continue to test the system. There were already processed more than 15,000 information files – for now, the virtual orders on administrative violation. To determine exactly where the camera will be located, we get information from emergency patrols of roads and places of concentration of accidents from the Patrol Police departments in the field.
They have already sent proposals to the local authorities and road owners on the places of installation of the devices. These proposals are just based on the analysis of emergency places. Therefore, at the first stage, it is planned to install 1,776 automatic fixation cameras: 1,187 of them in the cities, and another 589 on the roads.
Have you already found a common language with Ukrposhta on how to send letters with reports of violations and fines?
It is not the Patrol Police Department, but by the Main Service Center, that deals with this issue. Understanding has already been found, but it is too early to talk about something specific.
In addition to the system of automatic fixation of violations, since October last year, laser radars or TruCam LIDARs also began to work on the roads in test mode. Now there are 75, will you still increase the number?
The auto fixation does not take into account the identity of the driver: the offense is fixed, the system processes it, the information gets into the electronic database, then the inspector views it, and the decision goes to the owner of the car by letter. In the case of LIDAR, the detected intruder is stopped and brought to justice on the spot. Sometimes these laser speed meters are compared with those “headlights” that the Traffic Police once stood on the roads with. Do you know the biggest difference? Not even in the technical characteristics of the devices themselves, although, there is a gap between these devices, the fact is that before no one ever knew where the inspector stood with his device, and the process of using TruCams was as open as possible. Who wants to know where we use them, there is a map on our website. In the near future, we will set up another 25 such devices.
How many such places are there in Kyiv?
About ten. And we not only publish the places where these devices are but on a mandatory basis, there are signs on those sites that warn drivers that photo/video fixation is committed. In that place, there is always a patrol car with blue flashing lights on. We do not seek to collect more money through the mechanism of fines, as they sometimes say, but we warn the driver in every way that in this area if you do not want trouble, you should drive quieter.
In the areas where TruCam is operating, there is already a reduction in the accident rate. Where are we placing these devices? In places with an increased concentration of accidents, the cause of which is precisely speeding. We try to act proactively. From October 16, 2018, when the first devices were installed, and until April 1, 2019, 93,719 administrative materials for speeding were compiled using TruCam.
But drivers are going to court and there are already cases when the court decides in favor of the car owner…
Now I know only about 2 such decisions, and then the court of the first instance. This is Kramatorsk and Poltava. I do not comment in any way on the court decision, but in my personal opinion, the court did not fully understand the legislative nuances, because the decision refers to non-existent legislative acts. But there are dozens or even hundreds of decisions that confirm that everything is legal. Therefore, we see no threats for the use of LIDAR: 99% of all decisions, where the use of TruCam is challenged, are positive regarding the legitimacy of both using these devices and bringing violators to justice.
Will the violations other than speeding be recorded by the automatic system?
First of all, driving to the prohibitory signal of the traffic light, violation of the rules for stopping and parking, driving and stopping on the lane for public transport. As well as leaving the oncoming lane, violation of traffic rules through the railway crossing. In the field of view of the automatic fixation will fall also the prohibition to move on the sidewalks or footpaths.
For what exactly will drivers have to pay more?
Speeding more than 50 km/h is 510 UAH. In cities, where 50 km/h is allowed, such responsibility comes at a speed of 100 km/h. In fact, 51 km/h will be a violation, but according to the traffic rules, the driver will pay 255 UAH if one moves 20 km faster, than allowed.
Violation of the rules of movement through a railway crossing is punished with a penalty of 850 UAH. And the highest fine is for car parking at places provided for drivers with disabilities or those transporting them. This is from 1,020 to 1,700 UAH.
50 km/h in localities have been in force over a year. Are there real results?
You should understand that this decision was not made because someone wanted so. It is this speed of movement in populated areas that were generally adopted by a very large number of countries. Why? As shown by studies, conducted by many reputable organizations, including WHO, it is this speed – compared to 60 km/h – that reduces the number of deaths, especially in pedestrian traffic accidents. Therefore, this 10 km/h is a change that really saves lives.
As a driver, please, explain, on which gear to go 50 km/h – on the third or fourth? Drivers say that for the overwhelming majority 50 km/h for the third is too much and there is an over-expenditure of fuel, and for the fourth – not enough…
It depends on the technical characteristics of the car.
Wouldn’t it be better to create a mechanism that would force drivers, and all without exception, to adhere to 60 km/h? Because a year and a half ago there was a lot of speeding, and so it is now…
This is the approach of the average person, not based on the research of this problem.
Those, who drive every day, will tell you that the speed limit in major cities with the introduction of 50 km/h has not changed… Yes, and the crews of patrolmen or governmental motorcades do not drive 50 km/h.
To solve this problem, you need not only to change the legislation but to act simultaneously in different directions. That is, to adopt legislative changes and create mechanisms that will force drivers to abide by the rules of the road. The work is underway, we just need time.
Text by Larysa Vyshynska
Photo by Olena Usenko