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Traffic jam in Moscow
Traffic jam in Moscow
Ivan Buranov

MOSCOW — Since the first traffic camera was installed in Moscow in 2008, a new kind of traffic violation has been born — license-plate camouflage. The cameras capture license plate numbers, which is how drivers who break traffic laws are identified. Tickets are then sent by mail. More than 60% of traffic tickets are now issued like this — which means that if you can hide your plate number, you can beat the system.

The first attempts to hide license plate numbers were primitive. People used paper or, more often, dirt and snow. That prompted fines for dirty plates to rise by a factor of five, and the punishment for covering your plates with material could include a license suspension.

The authors of the new traffic rules expected that these punishments would prevent people from covering their plates, but the number of people hiding them has in fact soared. The thing is, the fines for the things that cameras are supposed to catch — speeding, driving in bus-only lanes or parking illegally — also rose substantially. It seems that people made a calculation: The potential punishment for hiding their license plates wasn’t enough of a deterrent. They took their chances, hoping that camouflaging their plates would allow them to break other traffic laws without punishment.

Which isn’t to say that license-plate covering isn’t punished. Since last June, Moscow traffic police have given around 3,000 tickets for covered plates. “The official statistics are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Vyacheslav Lisakov, a representative of Russia’s Duma, or assembly, who heads the Committee for Construction. “I think that around 30% of violations are given tickets, and more and more people are doing it — especially in Moscow.”

Moscow is Russia’s leader in video surveillance cameras, with more than 700 around the city. It is also the only Russian city with paid parking, which many residents have protested against, and the parking is monitored by mobile cameras mounted in patrol cars. Moscow also has a well-used system of bus lanes that are policed by cameras.

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A man takes a picture of a destroyed Russian tank in Nalyvaikivka, near Kyiv.

Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger.

👋 Grüezi!*

Welcome to Monday, where Russia warns Finland and Sweden that joining NATO would be a “grave mistake,” locked-down Shanghai announces it aims for June 1 reopening, and South Asia’s heat wave becomes untenable. Meanwhile, Peter Huth in German daily Die Welt explains why the Doomsday Clock isn’t ticking quite the same for millennials today as it was for baby boomers.

[*Swiss German]

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