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-   -   Will Russian cops bust me for having HID lights? (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/trip-paperwork/will-russian-cops-bust-me-61851)

Guy Jinbaiquerre 11 Feb 2012 08:57

Will Russian cops bust me for having HID lights?
This isn't really a "paperwork" question, but I'm putting it here because it involves rules and regulations.

Anyway, I heard from a Russian rider on ADVrider that all aftermarket HID lights are illegal in Russia, and the penalty is that you lose your license on the spot! (He went on to say that the cops are totally corrupt, so you can pretty much pay your way out of trouble, but still... that's kind of a scary prospect.)

Can anyone give me some information about how strictly this rule is enforced, especially outside of the big cities? Some friends and I are taking the ferry from Hokkaido, Japan to Sakhalin Island in Russia this summer, and I'm wondering if I should go to the trouble of converting my aftermarket HID lights back to stock.

My hunch is that since Sakhalin is relatively sparsely populated and we will be riding mostly dirt in the countryside during daytime, not asphalt in cities at night, no one is going to notice or care what kind of lights we're running. On the other hand, if there is some sort of official customs inspection of your bike when you bring it off the ferry (I don't know -- is there?), the inspectors might be checking for HID's. But still, even if they check, how would they know if our lights are aftermarket or stock?

FWIW, our low-beam HID headlights are not blindingly bright. I use mine all the time in Tokyo traffic and never get "flashed" by oncoming drivers. Of course my high beam might be annoying, but so would a halogen one. And I have some auxiliary HID lights that are way too bright to use around oncoming traffic, but they are wired to a separate switch and I keep them turned off unless I'm alone on a dark road at night.

Any advice or personal experience on this situation would be much appreciated. It sure would suck to get all the way there and then not be allowed to ride!



theunstoppable 11 Feb 2012 10:35

You should be fine with your lights but...
Hey Guy
I have no Idea which lights are allowed in Russia and which not.
I was surprised, that the russian border formalitys were almost the easyest on my entire 8-month trip last year. They didn't check the motorbike at all. I wouldn't care about your lamps much...

BUT!!! Make sure you can turn your lights off during the day. I'd got hazzle by police (and other road-users) all the time because my F800GS has no lightswitch. They always wantet me to pay a fee for "driving with lights on during the day". At the end I never had to pay but it was just bugging...

Wish you a great trip


motoreiter 11 Feb 2012 10:53

I don't have HID lights and have not been to Sakhalin, so I can't say for sure, but I don't think you will have any problem at all (although maybe you would in Moscow). If the cops want to extract money from you (not likely in my experience), they will not lack for reasons to do so.

I have entered Russia several times, and there has never, ever been any kind of customs inspection, I don't think that they have ever even checked in my panniers, and they have certainly never checked the VIN, much less things like lights.

I have also never had any problem with keeping my headlight on at all times, no one has ever stopped me for it, and I ride a lot in Moscow and other parts of Russia.

Grey Beard 11 Feb 2012 11:10

The UK AA have a website for foreign driving requirements. Here is the section for Russia:


It says motorcycles MUST use Dipped Headlights at all times. Don't know about HID lights.

Best check with AA or Russian Consulate, etc. for latest info.

Grey Beard

Tony P 11 Feb 2012 11:49


Originally Posted by Guy Jinbaiquerre (Post 366847)
Anyway, I heard from a Russian rider on ADVrider that all aftermarket HID lights are illegal in Russia, and the penalty is that you lose your license on the spot! (He went on to say that the cops are totally corrupt, so you can pretty much pay your way out of trouble, but still... that's kind of a scary prospect.)

Never heard of that.
Colebatch has HID and never a query on his 3 rides across Russia.
Many cars here have HID, both factory and aftermarket fitted - and badly adjusted too!.

The hoary old chestnut of Russsian road police again!

It is regular and usual for all road users to be stopped for document checks in Russia. This is a continuous process for some Road Police (ДПС) officers sent out specifically to do this. It is a regular thing to be stopped and there is nothing sinister in this.

Westeners often respond badly to this and become defensive or agressive at being stopped because 'back home' you are only stopped on having done something wrong and the driver./rider knows he has not done anything wrong.

These guys are generally bored and anything unusual or interesting breaks their day. So they stop anything looking differentl. Foreign number plates, smart looking or touring loaded motos (not local old ones) fall into this category. In sensative areas like Chechnia, Dagestan etc, and all border areas, expect many more stops as part of ongoing security operations.

When stopped they want to see papers. Next the most frequent question is where are you from and going - this is purely human interest from people who rarely see foreigners.

Now, here comes the rub - if you had done something wrong or your papers or vehicle are defective it is a whole new ball game! But like it or not, you had done something wrong and are liable for penalties.

The 'official' way is your Licence is held by the cop and taken to the police office at the end of his shift. You have to go (on foot!) to a bank and pay directly into a specific government bank account. At a later date, you take the receipt to the police station and wait for them to link this up your Licence, and internal notification from the bank (this alone can take up to a month!). Then you get your Licence back and return to your vehicle (if it is still there!) and can use the roads again.

The other way is to 'negotiate' a means for the cop to exercise his legal discretion and only issue a reprimand. He prefers to do this as, apart from the benefit of the 'negotiation', he is spared all the administrative paperwork and time when he could otherwise be 'negotiating' with others who have done wrong. You get on the road again a few roubles lighter, but considerably quicker and cheaper than the official way. A perfect 'Win, Win' sitution?

The prompt to all this is you have done something wrong, possibly unknowingly, but certainly wrong. These days the ДПС guys are generally totally honest in this and don't make things up. But having got you on one thing they might try to capitalise by looking for other faults.

The other thing is to have an idea of the 'official' penalties - for example speeding by 20%, crossing a white line etc is a maximum of about 1,000 Руб (20 quid), but they usually will settle for half to be able to get back to active duty ;) but that will not stop them trying to frighten you into offering more.

Once when 'discussuing' maximum penalty for my speeding $5,000 was written on a piece of paper. At that point I stopped playing the dumb tourist with no understanding of Russian I had been acting. I dropped a 500Руб note on the floor of his car, was handed back my Licence and was back on my moto 30 seconds later!

Most bookshops have a 'Highway Code' type year book listing maximum penalties. A few years back there was even an English version that I got for many HUBBers but I have not seen it for a year or two.

The point is if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.
Try not to break their Laws, speed limits and never cross a continuous, unbroken white line, not even to turn off into a fuel station or cafe on the other side of the road.

Guy Jinbaiquerre 11 Feb 2012 15:11

Thanks everybody for the good advice.

Tony P, you're saying that if the Russian cops DO take your license, you can't drive until you get it back through a long, bureaucratic process, while your bike just sits there on the side of the road the whole time?

I heard from a Russian guy that, as a foreigner in Russia, if the cops take your license, they give you a "temporary Russian driver`s license" in its place and you can keep driving. When you leave Russia, the cops supposedly have to return your real license to you. But even if they don't, you can just get a replacement back in your home country, so the whole thing is no big deal.

So, is this fellow wrong about all that? I understand the cops are likely to be more interested in getting a little cash on the side than in taking my license. But if they do take it, I want to know what I'm in for.

Hope you can clear this up; thanks!

Tony P 11 Feb 2012 16:19


Originally Posted by Guy Jinbaiquerre (Post 366886)
Tony P, you're saying that if the Russian cops DO take your license, you can't drive until you get it back through a long, bureaucratic process, while your bike just sits there on the side of the road the whole time?

I heard from a Russian guy that, as a foreigner in Russia, if the cops take your license, they give you a "temporary Russian driver`s license" in its place and you can keep driving. When you leave Russia, the cops supposedly have to return your real license to you. But even if they don't, you can just get a replacement back in your home country, so the whole thing is no big deal.

The procedure is the same for foreigners as locals.

These are various levels of offences which can determine if you are permitted to continue driving/riding or not, until all penalties have been satisfactorily paid, sentences served etc.
It's the same everywhere is it not?

In minor cases, when you insist on the 'official' route, they have a 'temporary' permit system allowing you to continue using roads for a short period of time during which the penalty can be paid and the burocratic system work to the point that you can return to collect in person your actual Licence from the local police office (local to the offence). The temporary permit has an equivalent short expiry date.

For more serious offences no such permit is offered so it is an effective ban. Even more serious you can be locked up.
It's the same everywhere is it not?

All 'official' offences are logged in a central computor together with notes if the penalty was paid or not. If they look you up and find long unpaid penalties expect some more!
It's the same everywhere is it not?

Westerners resistance to entering into the bribe culture here actually works against them.
The system is almost officially encouraged as an alternative to paying the ДПС proper levels of wages. The pay at lower levels is reportedly $70 a month, yet there is a queue of hopefuls wanting the job!.
If they were paid proper wages there would be a different approach - but as anywhere, no one likes paying sufficient taxes to make everything work. Here the ДРС, who are not the main Police but a separate force purely concerned with vehicles and drivers, are the unlucky ones because of the motorist being the universal cash cow.
It's the same everywhere is it not?

But in other countries, including UK, the same cash cow is milked by the use of Cameras, CCTV and traffic wardens in issuing automatic fines, penalties etc. Instead of going into the operators pockets the money goes into government or local council funds - who use it to provide services such as paying the Police. And so it goes round!
It's the same everywhere is it not?

It is the same everywhere - but for some reason people feel there is something distasteful with the Russian way.

Algarve Nick 11 Feb 2012 22:36

A great, informative post, Tony. I agree. Russia gets bad press.

motoreiter 12 Feb 2012 06:58

Another very simple solution for foreigners is to obtain multiple international driver's licenses, so you have a spare with you in case the Russian police take yours and make unreasonable demands to give it back.

Scrabblebiker 12 Feb 2012 22:17

The description of the Russian way has many similarities with what I experienced in Central America and I hear that it's pretty much the same in much of the world. This of course has some benefits for those who've actually done something wrong. You would probably not get away without a fine for serious speeding and other offenses in your own country either. You'd end up having to pay several hundred dollars or not be able to renew your licence or vehicle registration until you do so. So in that sense it's the same everywhere. You do something wrong, you pay.

But otherwise I'm not sure we can say "it's the same everywhere". The main difference in countries such as Canada and the USA for example, is that we are deemed innocent until proven guilty. The way the Russian system is described and what I experienced in Nicaragua seems to be the opposite. A police officer deems you guilty and you either pay up or you're screwed. I can certainly see how that can rile some people from countries where a drastically different system is in use ...I just accept it as the system in use locally and I accept the futility of trying to fight it, especially if it works in my favour.

At home, upon being issued a ticket we are given x number of days to either plead guilty by paying the fine or file a dispute with the courts. A court date is then set in the future and it will hear the case and come up with a verdict. If we don't pay, nor file an appeal we are deemed to have plead guilty and will not be able to renew our licence or vehicle registration until the fine is paid. In the meantime we keep our licences and vehicles. The exceptions being drunk driving and street racing. But even those laws are being challenged in court with parts of them already deemed unconstitutional.

While there may be avenues of appeal in other countries as well, the driver really has no leverage if his licence is confiscated and his vehicle is sitting by the side of the road. So I'd say it's hardly "the same everywhere" especially if you haven't actually broken the law and a rookie cop gives you ticket ...happened to me in Vancouver. I'm quite glad I had the opportunity to prove my case in court and have the ticket thrown out without having to rely on transit in the meantime and worrying about the fate of my vehicle.

Is one system better? worse? I have no idea
The same? Definitely not ...IMHO

Michelle Eisele

Tony P 12 Feb 2012 23:38

I disagree mostly with your sentiments.

I am not defending the Russian system or the British one. I am just able to describe both to a reasonable extent and know how reasonably best to get along under both systems. Generally on these threads folks are asking about Russia but not Britain. They ask because Russia is less known and perceived as more daunting and intimidating plus there are many a ‘sexed up’ story from long ago times in Russia, that are recounted to them fifth or sixth hand by someone hearing of your interest on coming here.

First - although the ДПС once had a notoriously bad reputation from the past, they are, as I said in an earlier post, quite honest now in that they will not stop you to accuse you of having done wrong when you had not. You may not realise what was wrong, being in a strange country, with different rules plus a different language not helping.

Second - in Russia there is the added confusion of the regular document checks. Those not understanding the system might, as I also said, not understand or respond in their spirit but react or remember wrongly and go away thinking that was an attempt to have them wrongly ‘busted’. This is not helped by the traditional stern, unhappy looking basic facial set (compared to Westerners) of most Russians. Believe me, they do smile, much, but only when there is something positive to smile about – unlike many English who often smile automatically when just approached even before being spoken to!

Third - there is an Appeals procedure in Russia. Ultimately you end up in a Court in front of a Judge who has to decide who is telling the truth – you or the uniformed officer. I bet the outcome in those circumstances is the same everywhere. Is that any different from your country? It is certainly like that in UK.

But for a very small sum of cash the matter can be over in seconds and you are on your way again, free – and, other than routine document checks, you only get stopped when you have done something wrong. Can you go about not expecting to be unpunished for that in your country?

The only difference is the process – in Britain you pay the Court that pays it into Government that pays the local authority that pays the Police that puts it in the Police Officers pocket. Russia cuts out all the the middle-men, pays the policeman less and has lower taxes (13% top rate).
Beyond that it is selective – You speed, you pay. You don’t speed, you don’t pay. Simple.

If it’s not like that in your country I am glad I live here instead.

Guy Jinbaiquerre 13 Feb 2012 06:13

@Tony P, I just want to say thanks again for the advice, and I was definitely not trying to say the "Russian way" is good or bad. I just wanted to know how to avoid getting my license and/or bike confiscated while I'm there! As long as I can keep riding, they can use whatever system they like. :cool4:

Tony P 13 Feb 2012 07:17


Originally Posted by Guy Jinbaiquerre (Post 367081)
I just want to say thanks again for the advice, As long as I can keep riding, they can use whatever system they like.

You are welcome. And thank you for setting up an interesting discussion!

My tips for Russia are -
1. Never ever cross a continuous unbroken white line, not even to enter a fuel station or car park on the other side of the road. This includes doing U turns in or out of towns.
2. Keep within speed limits - everywhere. Beware, 'town' speed limits often continue for a kilometer or so after the last visible building.
3. Keep a 500 Руб note separate from your other money in readyness of having to show 'respect' for the rules

Enjoy a most fascinating land with the most amazingly generous people (but only once outside of the Capital city - as in any land!)

"Those who have nothing give you the most!"

(Can't remember which HUBBer said that, but all travellers here would agree)

colebatch 13 Feb 2012 10:55

Just to butt in ...

I have travellend in Russia on bikes since 1994, and I totally agree with TonyP here (except on the part where he says you will get off crossing a white line for 500 rubles ... I suspect that one will cost more)

But in general, the reluctance of westerners to accept the bribe culture of Russia is to some degree simply cultural ignorance or an arrogant sense of cultural superiority.

You go to their country, so its your job to adapt to the way they do things. Its not for them to make a system that makes foreigners happy. They have their system, and it works, and as Tony has spent a fair bit of time pointing out, its really not that different, in the end, than it is anywhere else, its just that the channels are a bit more direct in Russia.

Don't go there with an attitude of cultural superiority, that our system is superior to theirs, or that they should change to make you happy, and you wont have problems comprehending or accepting their system. As mentioned before, its their country, so they have the right to design their system. If you want to travel there, all you have to do is have some understanding of how their system works. Same as anywhere right? If you go to Singapore, its your job to know that you can get whipped for spitting out chewing gum, or can be hanged for carrying an ounce of dope. If you go to Dubai, its your job to know you can get thrown in jail for amorous behaviour on the beach or that you cant live with your girlfriend (until you get married). Their gaff, their rules. Judging their system is not for us foreigners; thats for the Russians. Our role as visitors, is simply to understand it as best we can so we know how things work.

Getting back to the OP, I cant imagine you would have a problem with your aftermarket HID lights .... about every 3rd car on the road in Russia has them. Unless you happen to be following a police car, and your lights aren't adjusted properly and annoy the hell out of the driver ... then all bets are off. Note: badly designed headlight reflectors or cheap HID bulbs result in a lot of stray HID light (glare to oncoming drivers). Aftermartket HID works best with proper aftermarket headlight projectors as well. Shoehorning aftermarket bulbs into the sort of poorly designed, cheap reflectors that are on most motorcycles is likely to lead to a LOT of glare for oncoming drivers.

For what its worth, HID lights are not approved for bikes in the UK, France, Belgium, Holland etc either ... yet there are loads of bikes with them. Same deal as Russia really. Unless you are hassling a police car with incorrectly adjusted lights, it seems to be no problem.

Knight of the Holy Graal 13 Feb 2012 11:53

I have motorcycled Russia three times (and fined in 2011 for speeding with "easy" payment way of
reduced amount directly into the cop's pocket), and I agree with every single word Colebatch said.

To avoid any misunderstanding, I must say that I deserved the fine: I was riding at 110 km/h with limit of 60 on a straight and deserted road, there was a nice picture of the back of my motorcycle on the cop's computer's display.
So no claims at all from me, he was right at 100%.

The cop proposed the "easy" solution, and I accepted it.
Simple as that.

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