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The number of people who died in cars accidents across Armenia rose by about 12 percent last year despite government efforts to improve road safety, the national traffic police said on Thursday.

Colonel Norik Sargsian, a senior police official, said his agency recorded 327 road fatalities, up from 293 such cases in 2010. More than 3,000 other people were injured in traffic-related circumstances, a year-on-year increase of 12.5 percent.

According to the police data cited by Sargsian, the total number of accidents soared by 16.5 percent to a record-high 2,300. “Such a large number of traffic accidents was registered for the first time in Armenia’s history,” he told journalists.

The official attributed that surge to an increased number of cars imported to Armenia and the introduction in January 2010 of mandatory vehicle insurance which meant that virtually all car collisions are now reported to the traffic police. He insisted that the police did their best to try to make Armenian roads safer for the people.

Armenia -- Head of the Road Patrol department of the Traffic Police Norik Sargsian at a press conference, 31 August, 2011

Armenia -- Head of the Road Patrol department of the Traffic Police Norik Sargsian at a press conference, 31 August, 2011

Sargsian claimed that the number of accidents has fallen considerably since the police started using on January 16 surveillance cameras designed to detect and punish traffic violations. The first such cameras were installed last month at 20 major street intersections and thoroughfares in Yerevan.

Sargsian said the digital devices recorded more than 10,000 instances of speeding and other violations within two weeks. The drivers who committed them have received traffic tickets worth a total of about 120 million drams ($310,000), he said, adding that many of the offenders own expensive cars.

Seventy percent of those fines averaging 12,000 drams will go to a private company installing and operating the surveillance system. The total number of its cameras in and outside Yerevan is to reach 280 by 2017.

Sargsian dismissed fears that the police will not hesitate to fine government officials or wealthy and influential individuals breaking traffic rules. “I have personally stated that if a friend of mine asks me to exempt him from administrative punishment, the only way in which I can help him is to pay the fine in his place,” he said. “But that’s not going to happen because I have many friends and relatives and my salary will not suffice for that.”
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