Driving in Russia
Severe weather and lack of routine maintenance make road conditions throughout Russia highly variable. Drivers should exercise extreme caution to avoid accidents, which are common place in Russia. U.S. citizens who wish to drive in Russia should also familiarize themselves with road conditions and driving regulations in order to ensure for their own safety.
A license and registration are required to operate a vehicle in Russia. Foreigners visiting Russia for less than six months can use their state driver's license as long as they also have a certified translation of the license. If an American is in Russia for over six months and intends to drive a car, s/he needs to obtain a Russian driver's license. In order to get a Russian driver's license, an American needs:
- A U.S. passport and Russian visa registered at local OVIR (Office of visas and registrations)
- A medical certificate (a standard form available at any major clinic)
- A U.S. state driver's license and a photocopy with translation. The original license is returned to the applicant.
If the driver's license is valid, the applicant takes a written test and gets a Russian license. If the applicant has an expired license, they will also need to take a full driving test before a Russian license can be issued.
If an American does not have a U.S. driver's license or is unable to submit it to GAI (traffic police), s/he will need to attend a driving school, collect all the above listed documents, and pass both written and driving tests. Before they enroll, Americans should make sure that the school is authorized by GAI and will register the students for the tests. For further information please call the GAI station which handles all driver's license: (4232) 32-20-46.
Under the current Russian customs law, an American can operate a vehicle in Russia for up to six months using a document issued by customs at the port of entry as registration. If a car is in Russian for over six months, it has to be registered at the local customs office and GAI office in the region where the car will be used.
What to do when pulled over
As a general reminder, Russian law does allow traffic police to stop any vehicle for any reason. When a policeman reaches a vehicle, he is required to introduce himself by name and office. He may request the driver's license and the vehicle passport. These documents must be provided, but the driver does not need to exit the vehicle. Even if a fine is assessed, a citation can be written and the fine paid while the driver remains in the vehicle.
If the infraction is such that the traffic police decide to keep the driver's license, a written report ("protokol") of what happened and why the license was confiscated should be given to the driver. The vehicle passport, however, will always be returned.
"Shtatnyy" (permanent staff) and "vneshtatnyy" (not on permanent staff) traffic police are authorized to request drivers' documents. "Pomoshniki" (assistants), who wear red armbands, do not legally have this authority.
In case of an accident the driver has no obligation under law to notify GAI, unless the accident resulted in injury or death. Should everyone involved agree that there is no damages or that the damages can be settled outside of court, They are free to do so. However, GAI has to be informed and allowed to inspect the site of the accident if a police report is required for insurance purposes or for setting any claims that cannot be settled on the spot. It is a criminal offense to leave the site of an accident if anyone was injured. To report an accident one can call the general police number: 02.
Driver can operate a car registered to someone else, as long as they have a valid license, the car registration and a power of attorney from the owner. The power of attorney can be either notarized by a Russian equivalent of a notary public, or certified by a representative of the entity that owns the vehicle. Notarized documents are preferred, as they are easier to verify and, therefore, are less likely to raise suspicions. Under Russian law, the driver bears full responsibility for all accidents he caused. An individual owner of a vehicle has no liability other than the damage to the vehicle itself in case someone else was driving. If the car is registered to a company or organization, that entity is responsible for financial damages resulting from the accident. In case of a serious accident, however, criminal charges may be brought only against the driver.