Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian ordered police to start enforcing the use of passenger seat-belts in Armenia in earnest on Thursday as his government approved a five-year plan to make roads safer for motorists and pedestrians.
Officials said the program envisages wide-ranging measures, including the construction of tunnels and pedestrian crossings in the most dangerous sections of national highways. According to Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsian, the World Bank will provide $10 million for its implementation.
A separate statement issued by the government’s press office said the planned measures will result in a 10 percent decrease in traffic accidents by 2014. The Armenian police reported last year more than 2,200 accidents that left 407 people dead and 3,125 others injured.
Sarkisian found the statistics alarming as he spoke at a weekly session of his cabinet. “Our human casualty indicators exceed those of other countries by several times,” he said. “The main cause of that is that we don’t adhere to safety rules.”
The premier singled out the traditionally widespread non-use of seat-belts by Armenian car drivers and passengers. “You are obliged to require your drivers to fasten seat-belts that are almost not used now,” he told top government officials. “It would be good if the police started from themselves. Police officers must use seat-belts so that they can have a [moral] right to demand the same from other motorists.”
“There is nothing shameful about using seat-belts. It’s the opposite that is shameful,” he added, challenging a long-standing perception among local males.
Hovannes Hunanian, a deputy chief of the national police attending the government meeting, agreed, saying that he will issue a corresponding instruction to the traffic police later in the day. “We, police officers, must start doing that so others follow our example,” he told RFE/RL.
Sarkisian said that improved road safety is also essential for strengthening Armenians’ broader respect for laws. “Law and order in the country starts from maintaining road safety rules,” he said. “When citizens see that those rules are not respected, they treat the state accordingly.”