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Snitch On A Driver: Kazakhstan's Bad Parking Vigilantes

Bad parking in Kazakhstan
Bad parking in Kazakhstan
Like many city dwellers, Roman Slegin has had his fill of bad drivers. But what he hated the most were the drivers who "parked like asses."

So Slegin, a programmer in Kazakhstan's biggest city, Almaty, had an idea. He set up "I Parked Like An Ass," a website where users send in their snaps of egregious parking violations spotted on the streets of the country's commercial capital.

Staffed by three people, the site has grown rapidly and now takes submissions from all over the country, resulting in an online compendium of the too-close, the driveway-blockers, the sidewalk-parkers, and the double-space-straddlers.

After logging in, users can submit photos of "violators," leave comments, and vote for the worst offenders. They can also check -- by searching for their license plate number -- whether their own car features on the site.

In addition to the thousands of photos of bad parking, the site has a section on parking rules, laying out the dos and don'ts of correct parking.

According to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, the site has been so popular that the traffic police in Almaty have asked Slegin to join forces. They have offered to help verify the authenticity of the photos (users must now add the position and time of the photos). When satisfied that the photos are genuine, police will bring charges against persistent offenders.

A spokesperson for the police, Yerkin Utegenov, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the traffic police are planning to carry out "I Parked Like An Ass"-inspired raids once a month.

The Kazakh website isn't the first to use crowdsourcing to highlight violations on the road.

The site was set up in 2010 in Rochester, New York. In additions to photo galleries, it allows users to print out notes that they can stick on the windshields of bad drivers. A safe-driving campaign in Lebanon, Cheyef 7Alak, which in Arabic means "Do You See Yourself?", also encourages users to share examples of bad behavior on the roads.

Photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, blog platforms such as Tumblr, and social networks such as Facebook are full of pages documenting parking transgressions.

It was frustrations about bad drivers and a desire to name-and-shame that led to such crowdsourced websites being set up. At first, many police forces around the world were lukewarm to the idea, preferring more traditional boots on the ground and wheels on the tarmac.

In the United Kingdom, in 2008, police condemned a website encouraging users to report bad drivers, saying that it could lead to vigilantism. But in recent years London's Metropolitan Police have mellowed and launched the RoadSafe website, which allows members of the public to report "criminal, nuisance, and antisocial behavior on the roads of London."

In Almaty, drivers have mixed feelings about "I Parked Like An Ass." While many agree on the need to park properly and think the name and shaming could have a positive impact on drivers' behavior, some are also troubled by the question of verification.

A driver named Azamat told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that those posting to the site could use Photoshop, where users could alter the color of the cars or even the license plates. And with any crowdsourced-citizen initiative, there is always the potential for the website to be used for petty score-settling and disputes between neighbors.

With onboard cameras, helmet cameras, home surveillance systems, and, of course, cell phones cheaper than ever, initiatives like "I Parked Like An Ass" will grow and grow. The downside could be that drivers are spending so much time on their phones, ever ready to snap a dangerous driver, that they end up causing more accidents themselves.

Reporting by Manshuk Asautay in Almaty