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#18 - JRL 7263
Concern as Russia allows drivers one for the road

MOSCOW, July 24 (Reuters) - Russia relaxed its strict drink-driving laws on Thursday to allow motorists one beer before hitting the road -- but critics feared the change might send the wrong signal to the country's hard-drinking population.

Under Russian law it has been illegal to be drunk in charge of a vehicle -- a vaguer definition than limiting milligrams of alcohol in the blood as other countries do, but one which meant any drinking at all could land a driver in trouble.

But in a decree published on Thursday, the health ministry for the first time defined the word drunk as meaning more than 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.

Some newspapers were outraged by the move which in effect softens Russia's rules to bring them into line with western European countries.

They expressed fears of even more car crashes, which killed 12,600 people in the first half of the year alone.

"In Britain it is 50 milligrams," said the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. "But that is with a civilised people and a civilised police."

"This is clearly not possible because, as everyone knows, Russians will accept no limits. It is a big mistake, and we cannot allow it."

But the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta said the law was merely clearing up a legal grey area which had provided ample scope for police corruption. "These are clear criteria from which to make a conclusion that a driver is in a drunken condition," it said.

Traffic police, who routinely accept fines without the hassle of legal process, will not be entirely deprived of opportunities to supplement their income by deciding who to accuse of drunkenness.

The decree defines a list of clues for inebriation -- including trembling hands, slurred speech and strange behaviour -- to be used before any laboratory test has to be made.

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