Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Highway Patrol

The cops are everywhere. At at least to our eyes there seems to be lots of them, but we were hyper-sensitized by other traveler’s tales of being pulled over by bent rozzers looking for a bribe. In Russia and Ukraine we’ve not seen real evidence of that kind of behavior, but that’s because we’ve been respecting the rules of the road and generally obeying the speed limits. Besides, most of the horror stories we’ve heard usually end up with an admission of guilt for some traffic infraction  or other. 
Having said all that, unlike in the United States, with its layers of local and regional police forces, there’s only one cop car here. The distinctive silver and blue livery is found pretty much anywhere you’d expect cops to be, at the sides of roads, behind trees, at intersections munching doughnuts, and more obviously at fixed check points at the outskirts of every large town and city. If the police force's goal is to intimidate drivers into obeying the regulations, it seems to be working. 

By our reckoning we wouldn’t make a very attractive target anyway; there would be language issues, extra paperwork for the officer, that kind of thing. For future reference here’s some of the things that we’ve learned: 
  • Russian cops use radar guns to enforce the 90 kph speed limit on main two lane roads. Massive swathes of potholes and caravans of tractor-trailers slow things down making you obey the speed limit anyway, especially on side roads. 
  • Drivers will flash you, especially in the Ukraine. We finally worked out that flashing is a friendly warning of a cop ahead, not an inducement to get out of the way - although that happens as well. Russians don’t flash as reliably, but they also follow the rules of the road better than the Ukrainians. 
  • Overtaking is a balletic art. We were warned of maniacal overtaking, but it’s clear no one here wants to die on the road.  There are so few four lane highways in Eastern Europe overtaking is a way of life. Mostly its pretty cautious with cars weaving to and fro as gaps open up. With a little practice anyone can do it - given a large enough space and big enough cojones (so grow a pair, okay?).  
  • Pothole surfing can be fun, but requires concentration. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of it a big one will spank your ass. Keep the pressure up in your tires. 
Now, sit back and enjoy the drive! 

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