By Stefan Korshak
Kiev, Ukraine - Ever wonder what would happen if traffic cops were done away with and you could drive any way you wanted?
In Ukraine, less than a month ago, that's what happened and things are pretty much just fine.
The story of the "liquidation" of Ukraine's State Automobile Inspectorate (DAI) began in June after President Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Europe politician who led the country's Orange Revolution at the end of 2004, decided to drive to the mountainous for some hiking.
Fighting official perks is a focus of the Yushchenko administration and the former National Bank boss has made it clear he is no fan of either officialdom or officiousness .
So, instead of travelling the 300km from Kiev to the Polish frontier in a Soviet-style motorcade of armoured vehicles, police escorts and the like, Yushchenko went in an unmarked family sedan.
Big mistake - as any rank-and-file Ukrainian driver could have told him.
Traffic cops halted the presidential vehicle, Yushchenko later fumed at a news media conference, every 30 minutes or so over the four-hour trip. The Yushchenko family's late-model German sedan was, he said, functioning perfectly and he wasn't speeding.
The stops were nothing more than repeated shake-downs for bribes, the Ukrainian leader charged.
"There is more to a traffic policeman's job than collecting bribes," Yushchenko said. "These people are undermining public trust in law enforcement agencies and I will not allow it to continue."
From his subordinates Yushchenko demanded - and received - a plan to dissolve the DAI and by the beginning of July the deed was done, the executive order signed.
Ukraine's once-feared traffic police ceased to exist.
Immediately traffic cops appeared in the media, always predicting mayhem and often justifying bribes on the grounds of poor salaries.
"A traffic policeman receives only 500 hryvnas ($100, roughly) a month and who can live on that?" a cop, identifying himself as Volodymyr N, whined to a newspaper reporter.
"If we received $300 or 400 a month we would do our jobs perfectly," he said, "but now, with no police out there, our roads will become slaughterhouses."
But that's not the way it turned out. Drivers in the Ukrainian provincial cities of Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and Lviv reported traffic was moving quite normally and most drivers were obeying regulations, even though there were few, if any, traffic cops around to enforce them.