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ISET Economist Blog

A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Traffic Traumas

Recently, one of the authors of this article was crossing a street with a crowd of people at green pedestrian light close to Marjanishvili metro station, when a Mercedes was accelerating and heading towards the people, ignoring the red light, making the crowd splash in all directions. A police car was standing nearby, doing nothing.

Walking and driving in Tbilisi is usually dangerous and stressful. When walking around, pedestrians must continuously monitor the cars in their vicinity, even when walking on the sidewalks. The task of avoiding to be hit by cars is largely left to pedestrians, as many car drivers will not respect pedestrian rights. While Georgians are generally gentle and generous people, their attitude tends to change dramatically when they sit behind a wheel. Then fundamentally decent people turn into ruthless and selfish persons who would never give way to anybody.

When it comes to crossing a road, pedestrians need to be either patient and wait until there is a gap in the stream of cars, which in some streets can take a lot of time, or just move forward despite approaching cars. Whether or not there is a zebra crossing is irrelevant – the white stripes are not worth the color with which they are painted.

Yet also driving in Tbilisi is nerve-racking. Car drivers have always to be alert to react to harsh and dangerous violations of the rules.

Traffic in Tbilisi, and more generally in Georgia, is not only inconvenient and annoying but also hazardous. According WHO and World Bank data, Georgia is on the third place in Europe when it comes to casualties inflicted by car traffic. The traffic-related death rate stands at 15.7 persons per 100,000 people, after Russia (18.6 deaths) and Armenia (18.1 deaths). Slightly better is the situation in Azerbaijan with 13.1 traffic-related kills per 100,000 people. For comparison, in Iceland, Sweden, and the UK the traffic-related death rate is about 3 persons per 100 000 population.

In Georgia, 30-40% of all traffic accidents involve pedestrians, and as statistics of the “Georgia Alliance for Safe Roads” show, the number of car accidents involving pedestrians is increasing (see the chart). Georgia is moving backward rather than forward when it comes to road safety, in particular with regard to pedestrian protection.

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WHAT CAUSES THE PROBLEM?

One of the most irrational policies of the last year was the reduction of traffic fines that was initiated by Irakli Garibashvili, who was then the minister of the interior. Several fines were cut down by 50%, e.g. the fine for speeding was reduced from 100 GEL to 50 GEL. It seems as if the government wanted to gain approval by reducing unpopular traffic fines, sacrificing the safety of citizens for some elusive political advantage and making Tbilisi an even less livable city. It is far from clear whether in the end the voters will reward such myopic policies.

Another issue is the easiness with which one can get a driving license in Georgia. One has to answer several hundreds of multiple choice questions which can be memorized in advance. Then one has to do some maneuvers on a designated learning area, where one has to avoid hitting barriers and getting off the street. Yet nobody tests whether a person knows how to drive in the city and on highways. In other countries around the world (e.g. in all European Union countries), driving has to be learned in real-world traffic, and in the final exam the aspirant has to drive a car on highways and through crowded cities under the supervision of a critical examiner. Considering how easy it is to get a driving license in Georgia, it becomes clear why many Georgians – let us be frank about it – are driving so badly.

Another reason is the failure of police to regulate traffic. Georgians are very proud of their police, which was one of the most corrupt in the 1990’s and was replaced after the Rose Revolution by a “patrol police” that does not harass citizens anymore. Yet while it is true that the police does not harass people, it is also not doing much good, at least when it comes to traffic. There are few cities in the world where one sees so many police cars driving around while the car traffic is so barbarian as in Tbilisi. Despite reprimanding other road users by shouting with their microphones, there is not much intervention on part of the police.


WHAT CAN BE DONE?

The best example how things can improve is given by the city of Yerevan, whose city center is now as quiet and pleasant as otherwise just known from Scandinavian cities. While traffic casualties are very high in Armenia, the traffic problem was completely solved in the inner parts of Yerevan.

What was done? In 2009 and 2010, the police started punishing misconducts of pedestrians and car drivers with 3000 AMD (about 15 GEL) and 20,000 AMD (about 90 GEL), respectively. Shortly afterwards, the police stopped taking fines from pedestrians as it was difficult to implement this policy. Pedestrians often did not carry their passports with them and it was difficult to identify violators what were recorded by cameras.

In addition, the police found creative ways to make road users respect the laws. The police recorded videos of the most dangerous maneuvers which were then shown in various TV channels. This made the whole topic of road safety very popular among the Armenian audience.

Moreover, a comprehensive system of video cameras was established in Yerevan, monitoring crossroads, traffic lights, and zebra crossings. Violations were effectively detected, and 20,000 AMD fine was not just an empty threat but a strong incentive to keep by the rules.

Finally, there were more traffic lights and zebra crossings established, making it easier to get around on foot, increasing safety, and reducing speeding.

Taming an uncivilized traffic is actually not a difficult problem. As experience shows, a strict enforcement of rules through the police together with reasonably high fines and an improvement of infrastructure can work wonders. All this is not expensive, and lack of money does not justify if the government remains idle about this urgent problem.

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Guest - TTT on Friday, 12 December 2014 18:57

Well,to my knowledge we already have fines for both Pedestrians and Car Drivers and Cameras as well; The problem is enforcement of the law. If there is no will from the respective institutions to enforce this law then the problem remains unresolved.

Well,to my knowledge we already have fines for both Pedestrians and Car Drivers and Cameras as well; The problem is enforcement of the law. If there is no will from the respective institutions to enforce this law then the problem remains unresolved.
Guest - Nino on Friday, 12 December 2014 21:09

In fact, there has also been fines for pedestrians in Georgia and it was enforced in the years 2006-2007. However, for some reason, I do not see/hear about its enforcement now. There is a lot to be done in this respect by the government, but also popular attitudes are important. Nowadays people seem more concerned with bad driving habits. I know lots of drivers, who own cameras for their cars and publish bad drivers' videos online. Additionally, there is a page on Facebook, called "Get to know shameful drivers". All these has a potential of correcting the attitudes' side and maybe situation will improve, consequently.

In fact, there has also been fines for pedestrians in Georgia and it was enforced in the years 2006-2007. However, for some reason, I do not see/hear about its enforcement now. There is a lot to be done in this respect by the government, but also popular attitudes are important. Nowadays people seem more concerned with bad driving habits. I know lots of drivers, who own cameras for their cars and publish bad drivers' videos online. Additionally, there is a page on Facebook, called "Get to know shameful drivers". All these has a potential of correcting the attitudes' side and maybe situation will improve, consequently.
Guest - Eric Livny on Saturday, 13 December 2014 15:20

Thank you for your comment, Nino! Publicly shaming reckless drivers would be an excellent component of the overall policy solution. Any solution, however, must start with higher fines and and tough, I would even say, Draconian enforcement. At least for the duration of a transition period during which both drivers and pedestrians adjust their behavior. This would not take very long, maybe one or two months. Many cities have gone through such a transformation in the past, with great success. One example, cited in the article, is Yerevan. Another one that I am familiar with is Moscow (I lived in Moscow in 1993-2007).

It is very important to understand that the resulting change in behavior would be permanent. We discuss this in another (highly popular) publication on our blog "An Economist’s Comment on “Dodge or Die” on the Streets of Tbilisi" http://www.iset.ge/blog/?p=1903 (English) and ეკონომისტის კომენტარი საგზაო მოძრაობაზე თბილისში http://www.iset.ge/blog/?p=2361

Thank you for your comment, Nino! Publicly shaming reckless drivers would be an excellent component of the overall policy solution. Any solution, however, must start with higher fines and and tough, I would even say, Draconian enforcement. At least for the duration of a transition period during which both drivers and pedestrians adjust their behavior. This would not take very long, maybe one or two months. Many cities have gone through such a transformation in the past, with great success. One example, cited in the article, is Yerevan. Another one that I am familiar with is Moscow (I lived in Moscow in 1993-2007). It is very important to understand that the resulting change in behavior would be permanent. We discuss this in another (highly popular) publication on our blog "An Economist’s Comment on “Dodge or Die” on the Streets of Tbilisi" http://www.iset.ge/blog/?p=1903 (English) and ეკონომისტის კომენტარი საგზაო მოძრაობაზე თბილისში http://www.iset.ge/blog/?p=2361
Guest - Anna on Saturday, 13 December 2014 22:23

A few days ago I was driving on Chavchavadze Ave during the rush hour. The road was packed and moving slowly. A Porsche got out of the line, crossed to the other side of the road, and cut in front of everybody stuck in the traffic jam. There was a police car behind me and they saw this too. They got out of the line and followed the Porsche. I thought: Finally (!!!) I can see the police reacting to such rude and dangerous behavior! Well, I couldn't be more wrong. The police did not stop the driver. Apparently they thought that what the guy did was a very clever and time-saving idea, and did the same thing!!!!

Well, if the police behaves this way, what can you expect from regular drivers?

A few days ago I was driving on Chavchavadze Ave during the rush hour. The road was packed and moving slowly. A Porsche got out of the line, crossed to the other side of the road, and cut in front of everybody stuck in the traffic jam. There was a police car behind me and they saw this too. They got out of the line and followed the Porsche. I thought: Finally (!!!) I can see the police reacting to such rude and dangerous behavior! Well, I couldn't be more wrong. The police did not stop the driver. Apparently they thought that what the guy did was a very clever and time-saving idea, and did the same thing!!!! Well, if the police behaves this way, what can you expect from regular drivers?
Guest - llabadze on Monday, 15 December 2014 12:56

I installed a car camera exactly for punishing those shameless drivers. I’m recording at least five cases of violation of law every day and I’m ready to pass those video records to the police if they had effective system of getting them quickly and fining the violators.

I installed a car camera exactly for punishing those shameless drivers. I’m recording at least five cases of violation of law every day and I’m ready to pass those video records to the police if they had effective system of getting them quickly and fining the violators.
Guest - Nikoloz on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 17:06

I would expect to have the same traffic problems in each and every country/city with such "enforcement" ...

I would expect to have the same traffic problems in each and every country/city with such "enforcement" ...
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