Funny Breathelizing Tests by Kyrgyz Police

My next car to drive in Kyrgyz Republic

Driving in emerging markets requires courage. But it also provides endless stream of funny stories. Most pale when compared to traffic police stops as demonstrated by this example from the Kyrgyz Republic.


Recently, I visited Kyrgyzstan to contribute to another environmental inspection/audit of the Kumtor Gold Mine (see also Visiting Yuri Gagarin’s Bust – Postcard from Kyrgyzstan). I would like to share with you a real (surreal?) story when we were stopped by the Kyrgyz traffic police.

But let’s start with a bit of context. Kyrgyzstan is rated 164th out of 183 countries in Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index. The US travel advisory about Kyrgyzstan contains this information on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

“Most of the Kyrgyz Republic’s road infrastructure consists of two-lane roads, many of which have fallen into disrepair and are poorly marked and lit. Many local drivers disobey fundamental traffic laws by not stopping at red lights, driving while intoxicated, passing vehicles when it is dangerous or prohibited to do so, or not stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections “ and continues that drivers “may face harassment by traffic police, who have been known to demand payment of arbitrary "fines" for purported infractions."

So back to our story. We were stopped by the traffic police. Our driver was advised that he was speeding and requested to pay a sum which was well above the amount typically due for speeding. So, when the driver rejected payment, the traffic police asked him if he was drinking. This introduced a new angle to the conversation. Traffic police can charge much higher penalties from drunk drivers.

But our driver, who had not been drinking, did not accept the charge. So the police decided to up his game once more and test the driver. And this is what happened next: the police man rolled a piece of paper into an empty funnel. He instructed the driver to blow into the paper funnel (which contained no test tube and was not attached to any measuring equipment). After that, the police man waived the empty paper funnel in front of his own nose. He also proceeded to take the pulse of the driver. Despite this ‘organoleptic testing’ the charge remained unacceptable to the driver. Noticing that his 'high tech approach' was not getting much traction, the police man ended up charging the driver the lower fine for 'normal speeding' and we were allowed to continue our journey.

Anecdotal evidence suggest that this kind of shakedown seems very common in the Kyrgyz Republic. Some see it as symptomatic of the problems of Kyrgyzstan and various article discuss this issue in greater depth. Two interesting examples can be accessed here: Corrupt scheme managed by traffic police revealed in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan’s Corruption Battle: Traffic Police vs. Secret Police and Kyrgyzstan: Donor-Funded AIDS Project Shines Light on Corruption Issue.

This perhaps explains why so much donor funding is being directed towards addressing corruption issue, including those related to law enforcement. The US, for example, has invested over $13 million since 2006 to assists, among other things, the Kyrgyz traffic police to professionalize operations and training, and set up systems that impede corruption and improve services to the citizenry. I wonder if this introduced the creative breathelizing tests we experienced...

Kyrgyzstan is being praised for achieving a parliamentary democracy, although two revolutions and several government changes over the past few years suggest that the system is yet to be fully institutionalized. And changing culture takes time...

What is your favorite or most creative traffic police stop story?