Alcoraid: how activists combat drunk driving in their cities

In Ukraine, a joint project of activists and patrol police is aimed at detecting drunk drivers. The Pitbull initiative is operating in seven Ukrainian cities (Kropyvnytskyi, Lviv, Rivne, Kyiv and others). Every weekend hundreds of activists are keeping watch near nightclubs and notify the police about people that get behind the wheel under influence. Working with the Pitbull, patrol police have already prepared 2,500 reports on instances of DUI. Human Rights Information Center journalist recently witnessed one such raid on a nightclub.

***

Activists are gathering at Olimpiyska metro station in Kyiv at 11 pm.

Over a dozen cars are parked near the old ticket windows.

There are several people inside each car - girls as well boys. They are all young, most likely no one over thirty.

The raids does not start right away. There’s no rush - nightclubs only start waking up at this hour.

So the activists are gathering slowly, forming groups. Some are smoking, others are getting coffee. They spend thirty minutes discussing unrelated things.

Discussing the raid is unnecessary - everybody already knows bout it.

They only need to decide who goes where.

 

This decision depends on who knows what district best, as well as who’s got a car. Sometimes it matters.

“Look, there’s no point going there, have you seen our car? There are rich guys there, we can’t keep up with them,” says one of the guys.

Anton and his girlfriend Anya go to one of the most popular places in the Osokorky neighborhood.

***

Anton, who is raid coordinator today, was one of those who started this movement.

Of course, no one had any anti-alcohol raids in mind three years ago, let alone an organized all-Ukrainian campaign.

One day, however, Anton and Oleksiy, the project’s current leader, lost a friend.

“He was driving and stopped his car at the side or the road to talk on the phone. A company of drunken guys that were returning from a nightclub crashed into his car at high speed,” recalls Oleksiy.

Their friend was killed on the spot while the drunk guys survived.

According to Oleksiy, after that incident their small circle spontaneously came together and went to a nightclub to see the state of people that come out of there and whether most of them really get behind the wheel drunk.

Some people get a taxi, others have personal drivers, but quite a lot do drive while intoxicated. It is hard to convince them not to.

The activists are rarely successful here, they mostly just watch. If they see something, they just notify the police.

“Of course, sometimes we realize that a person should not be allowed to drive, as they would barely be able to walk. One of us would approach them and ask them to reconsider. Unfortunately, such methods are ineffective, because people in this state usually don’t want to hear anything,” says Oleksiy.

“Once they start drinking, they stop caring about everything else,” adds Anton.

They do care though when their license is taken away. By law, if you get caught violating Article 130 (DUI), the punishment is strict: a fine and two year driving ban.

Patrol officers confiscate the license right away, issuing a temporary one instead, and in a few days the court makes the final decision whether to go ahead with the ban.

Of course, while everything works fine at the confiscation stage, not every case makes it to court.

“We had cases when we’d catch the same person three times.

Three times we would see that person getting behind the wheel drunk, we’d call the police that would record the fact of alcohol intoxication and draw up a report.

And three times that person would smirk and show us their driver’s license. So despite the fact that the license should have been confiscated, that person would simply get it back in a couple of days thanks to connections,” says Anton.

At 1 pm, he and Anya as well as other activists in 2 more cars are keeping watch near a nightclub, on the lookout for drunk visitors.

There are few of those at this hour, some are only now coming in.

The real fun, they say, starts in a couple of hours.

“Almost half of the people that join the Pitbull have a tragic story to tell about their loved ones that’s related to drunk drivers,” says Anya. “I had a family friend who had been riding a motorcycle professionally for many years.

One day he was on his way home when some woman, obviously drunk, suddenly made a turn across a double white line. He had no time to slow down and died instantly.”

Anya’s other friends’s car recently toppled over and ended up in a ditch. They were returning from a party drunk; the car was smashed and the people barely survived.

“You drive drunk once, and everything’s fine, you do it again, and again, but you can’t tell what’ll happen next time. Many people say, it doesn’t matter whether I’m drunk or sober - I'm an excellent driver.

The truth is though, it’s those super confident people that usually get into such situations, because their reaction time suffers,” adds Anya.

Pitbull’s main goal, explains the organizer, is not to take away everyone’s licenses and hit them with fines.

Fines are a joke to most people anyway, and taking a license away often proves impossible.

To make sure that a case has not been swept under the rug at some stage, activists visit courts from time to time.

Cases sometimes don’t make it to courts though. Some people manage to circumvent the law and get their driver’s license back before that.

That’s not the point though, says Oleksiy.

“Our aim is to explain to the public that when you see a violation, you can simply call 102. We should interact with the police, not be afraid of it.”

***

"That guy in a blue jacket is going to fall, I think," says Oleksiy.

It’s been three hours since the guard duty at the nightclub started. The alcohol rush hour begins.

Tonight Oleksiy is working in tandem with Taras. They are in the front seats of a large light-green jeep. It’s one of the most colorful vehicles in the parking lot.

“Damn, I think he's walking in our direction,” says Taras.

Walking is not exactly the right word. Rather, the man is swaying slowly toward the activists.

One meter farther he stops and falls in the bushes, then gets up and tries to unbutton his pants.

He eventually succeeds and takes a leak on juniper and once again loses his footing.

“Alex, can you see his car? If he came in one, we can’t let him behind the wheel,” says Anton on the radio from his car.

Several activists carry radios to make communication quicker and more convenient.

“No need, he’s not going anywhere,” replies Oleksiy. Indeed, the man in a blue jacket lies down on the grass and turns on the other side.

***

A company comes out of the club few minutes later: two girls and a bloke.

They appear to be slightly drunk, the guy at least. They get into a car.

“After them. Call the cops,” says Oleksiy, driving out of the parking lot.

 

“Good evening, it’s Pitbul speaking, we’re in pursuit of a car along the Lesya Ukrainka Street; we are making a turn toward the bridge, license plate ***,” eyes on the map, Taras notifies the patrol police.

It’s 3 am, the road is empty, the car ahead stops at a traffic light and turns on the emergency signal.

“Damn, they must’ve spotted us, drive ahead and turn into the nearest street,” says Taras nervously.

They can still see the car from around the corner. It waits at the crossroads for a few minutes longer and then starts moving again. A hundred meters or so farther it is intercepted by two patrol police vehicles.

The driver is a girl.

“They must have swapped seats while they had the emergency signal activated,” says Oleksiy.

The girl tests clean for alcohol.

***

It’s quite lively at the club at 4 am. A few people are finishing their cocktails while waiting for a taxi.

Others are getting into big black cars with personal drivers.

Pitbull activists have a list of dozens of signs that help them predict whether a person is going to drive drunk and what cars they have.

For example, the large Rover Rover probably has a personal driver waiting inside.

However, a Lexus usually means one or two young guys or girls that want to show off.

People with such cars rarely use personal drivers.

Indeed, two guys get into a black Lexus and drive out of the parking lot moments later. Their speed is already over a 100 km/h at the turn.

“Hello, it’s Pitbull again. We are following a black Lexus along the *** road, taking a turn toward the bridge.”

A minute later the Lexus is almost out of sight. Oleksiy goes faster and almost catches up with it.

On the bridge, part of which has been blocked, the Lexus suddenly stops, backs away and then slips through an opening, ignoring the roadblocks.

The car’s speed is now over 150 km per hour.

Taras is in contact with the police, updating them on the car’s location every 10 seconds: passing the Paton bridge, heading toward the city center, highway, street, descent, another bridge.

Finally, after a 15 minute chase, both cars get stuck in a traffic jam near another nightclub, in city center. The police arrive a few minutes later.

The driver of the Lexus breathes into a breathalyzer. The norm is exceeded by a factor of eight.

The police ask Oleksiy and and Taras to be witnesses. As they are signing documents, the Lexus driver is on the phone with someone.

In a few minutes his friend arrives; they are standing nearby and discussing something.

Another minute later a girl comes up - also drunk and barely standing, she’s waving her purse:

“I’ve brought everything, as you asked. What’s taking so long, guys? I’ll sort this out no problem, I have serious arguments in the form of banknotes,” she jokes and runs up to her friends.

“I'll sort this out in two minutes and we’ll go on partying,” says the girl loudly. The company laughs and waits for the police to finish their report.

***

Oleksiy and Taras finish signing the documents and leave. The Lexus and the drunk people are still talking to the patrol officers.

 

“It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to sort things out with the police,” says Oleksiy. “It’s quite possible at the later stages though.

They are not afraid of anything, because no one can punish them. Other people get punished, while they’ll be speeding again next weekend.

There’s a chance though that this will make them think and next time they will use a personal driver.”

On their way back, Oleksiy tries to remember whether the driver of the Lexus wrote down his car plates.

“This happens a lot - people are different, some want to take revenge for being reported to the police.”

Three cars belonging to the activists were burned since the initiative started.

Alyona Vyshnytska, Human Rights Information Center, for the Ukrayinska Pravda. Zhyttya

Some names were changed

The Human Rights Information Center together with the International Renaissance Foundation collects practices of effective cooperation between society and the police to share this knowledge with communities.

 

 

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