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After decades of negligence, motorists in Yerevan began wearing their safety belts in droves on Thursday to avoid paying hefty fines finally enforced by traffic police.

The use of seat belts has long been mandatory in Armenia. The Armenian police began cracking down in earnest on the widespread and long-standing defiance of the legal requirement in the capital on Wednesday, one week after the government approved a five-year plan to make roads safer for car drivers and pedestrians. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian singled out seat belt use as a key element of that plan.

According to the police, more than 200 persons were fined 5,000 drams ($13.5) each on Wednesday for failing to buckle up while driving. That explains why the vast majority of Yerevan drivers appeared to be driving with fastened seat belts the next day.

“I didn’t expect to see such a drastic change,” Arsen Arshakian, commander of a road police battalion, told RFE/RL. “I enjoy observing it.” “The traffic police are ensuring a gradual transition to safer driving,” he said.

“We buckle up so they don’t fine us,” explained one motorist. “I didn’t do that until yesterday. Why should I pay 5,000 drams?”

Some drivers found the experience unusual and inconvenient. “It feels likes something is handing from your neck,” said one of them. “True, we are not used wearing seat belts, but little by little people find that normal,” said another.

Other drivers interviewed by RFE/RL made no secret of their dislike of the measure. “I will find it normal if this law applies to everyone,” said one man. “There are people who still don’t fasten their belts.”
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