Primarily, the Russian people have only been driving for a short time. Prior to the fall of communism in 1989, private ownership of motor vehicles was severely restricted by cost, but more importantly, to restrict the free movement of the population within the former Soviet Union. Access to motor vehicle ownership in the last 27 years has increased exponentially! What has not increased however is the skill, ability, psyche and consideration that goes with the operation of a motor vehicle. Accompanied by this, is a distinct lack of experience, discipline and courtesy needed when driving on a public road.
There also appears to be no concept of consequence in Russia. This results from a lack of lateral thinking which is not nurtured in Russian society as well as their education. So they drive like aggressively without regard for road rules believing they’re not causing any harm. Russians believe the bigger the car they drive, the safer they are. Hence why drivers of 4x4s tend to be even more aggressive then drivers of a Fiat Punto.
Russia: The only place where you can be rear-ended whilst overtaking, driving the wrong way up a one way street!
Corruption is rife in Russian which means that money can buy anything, including a driver’s licence. Russian get drivers licences with no knowledge of road rules or even the ability to drive a car! As a result there is little reason to learn the highway code. Thus everyone has their own view as to what the laws of the road really are. Continuing with corruption, if you drive like a idiot and get stopped, you can generally bribe your way our of being punished. Thus there is basically no fear of punishment which reinforces the belief that Russian drivers can behave at the wheel as they wish with impunity. Police are generally nowhere to be seen. They might occasionally pull you over nearer the centre of a city by being flagged down but a police car pulling someone over? Never! There are no cameras, except around the city centre but even if you are sent a fine, there is no system in place to actually guarantee payment of that fine. Many Russians who have been sent a fine have never paid it. So again, you can act without fear of punishment,
“There are only two types of Russians – those who give bribes and those who take them.”
So all in all, this theme finds its way into the Russian psyche. The Russians are not stupid because, if you are stupid, you still know the difference between right and wrong. 80 years of communism has lead Russians to be disillusioned and somewhat primitive. There is a big difference.
Driving in Russia is hazardous: Last year, 200,000 traffic accidents killed 27.025 people in Russia in 2013. Addressing those high levels, President Dmitry Medvedev blamed the “undisciplined, criminally careless behaviour of our drivers,” along with poor road conditions. However, Medvedev made no mention of the totally dysfunctional Russian traffic police!
Russians consistently ignore red lights, overtake on the inside, overtake on the outside when unsafe or blind, speed and couple this with little or no technical expertise or driving ability, this is a recipe for disaster!
While accepting that drivers certainly play a role, Medvedev did not mention Russia’s traffic police, which, “is known throughout their land for brutality, corruption, extortion and making an income on bribes.”
According to information published by New Times(2009), one day’s corrupt income for a traffic policeman is $1000. Everyone regards the law enforcement agencies, chiefly the police, as extortioners in uniform and it is generally recognised that a policeman’s official salary is only part of his income. Medvedev’s police reform, carried out by the police establishment itself, has failed. The overwhelming majority of Russians have no more faith in the police than they did in the Soviet past.
Russia ranks 133rd among the world’s nations in corruption (where number one is the least corrupt), according to Transparency International. So going to the police with a legitimate complaint is far from sure to produce a good result.
In addition to authorities they deem untrustworthy, Russian drivers must contend with the possibility of being attacked by another driver. The below video compiles fights between drivers that feature crowbars, slapping, punching, and worse.
Then there are pedestrians who get themselves hit by cars on purpose, for a payoff. A video compilation (below) of failed scams offers a few examples.
Overall, in a country where traffic conditions are horrible, insurance scams and roadside fights are always a possibility, and the police are widely viewed as corrupt, video evidence of one’s innocence can be a very valuable thing.
There are are number of things which also contribute to this situation:
- Harsh climate. It means foggy mornings in the summer, rainy autumns, snowy winters notorious of its blizzards and ice, springs with huge lots of wet dirt.
- Poor road conditions. Yes, that is no secret, that the bigger part of roads in Russia are not good. Perestroika, the crisis of 90’s and other economic problems including theft and corruption inside the Road construction department resulted in poor roads conditions
- Large distances. It is much more easy and convenient to build and service roads in a small country, neither in Russia where distances between settlements sometimes can be counted in hundreds of km. Living in Siberia, one can take a ride from one city to another and not see civilisation for hours with only taiga forest around. In Australia, large distances are also an issue, but Australians do not have the poor driver behaviour as exhibited in Russia!
- The Russian government did not expect people to have so many cars. The number rose dramatically over the last 25 years. In the west, the culture of proper driving was formed over a longer period, while in Russia it just boomed. The problem is much worse for big cities of 1 million citizens or more. Here we see too many cars on tiny roads and a lack of parking spaces. It makes people nervous while driving.
- The other factor is culture. Russian people today haven’t learned to respect each other. And they won’t until the economic situation improves.
Vehicles and Vodka
Russia has a long history of alcohol consumption. The average Russian drinks 20 litres of pure alcohol per annum, nearly twice as much as their nearest rival. This of course carries onto the streets of Russia.
According to data, the number of drunk drivers has been steadily increasing in the past few years. In the last eight months of 2012, the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers rose by 3.5%. In that time, there were 152 alcohol related accidents in Moscow, which caused 15 deaths. And Moscow is far from being the worst city in Russia: in the Krasnoyarsk region there were 433 drunk driving accidents over the same period.
Some worry that stricter laws will mean serious punishment even for drivers who don’t drink, since Russia’s laws don’t specify a blood alcohol level at which one is considered drunk. United Russia lawmakers think that establishing specific criteria for drunk drivers is essential to the success of a stricter law. A threshold is important because human blood will always contain some alcohol, which could be detected in blood tests. Russia had an alcohol limit until 2010, but then-President Medvedev thought drivers interpreted the law to mean they could drink up to that point, and changed the law to zero-tolerance.
On the other hand, people who knowingly drink and drive might not be deterred by the new law at all. The police say people who regularly drive under the influence and accumulate suspended licenses for years simply ignore the sanctions (such as the driver in the recent accident in Moscow, whose license had been suspended in 2010 for drunk driving).
In the past two years, more than 18,000 drivers have had their license suspended for drunk driving. Among those drivers, some had been punished for drunk driving 100 times or put in administrative arrest 16 times for driving without a license. The law has no effect on this type of person, so a completely different approach is needed with them. It has been suggested that if they can’t stop themselves from drinking and driving, they need to be under the strict control of the courts and medical staff.”
The Russian Dash-Cam
In Russia, everyone should (and does) have a camera on their dashboard. It’s better than keeping a lead pipe under your seat for protection (but you might still want that lead pipe).
The conditions of Russian roads are perilous, with an insane gridlock in the city and gigantic ditches, endless swamps and severe wintry emptiness of the back roads and highways. Then there are large, lawless areas you don’t just ride into, the police with a penchant for extortion and deeply frustrated drivers who want to smash your face.
Psychopaths are abundant on Russian roads. You best not cut anyone off or undertake some other type of maneuver that might inconvenience the 200-pound, six-foot-five brawling children you see on YouTube hopping out of their SUVs with their dukes up. They will go ballistic in a snap, drive in front of you, brake suddenly, block you off, jump out and run towards your vehicle. Next thing you start getting punches in your face because your didn’t roll up your windows, or getting pulled out of the car and beaten because you didn’t lock the doors. These fights happen all the time and you can’t really press charges. Point to your broken nose or smashed windows all you want. The Russian courts don’t like verbal claims. They do, however, like to send people to jail for battery and property destruction if there’s definite video proof. That is why there’s a new, growing crop of dash-cam videos featuring would-be face-beaters backing away to the shouts of “You’re on camera, fucker! I’m calling the cops!”
Dash-cam footage is the only real way to substantiate your claims in the court of law. Forget witnesses. Hit and runs are very common and insurance companies notoriously specialize in denying claims. Two-way insurance coverage is very expensive and almost completely unavailable for vehicles over ten years old–the drivers can only get basic liability. Get into a minor or major accident and expect the other party to lie to the police or better yet, flee after rear-ending you. Since your insurance won’t pay unless the offender is found and sued, you’ll see dash-cam videos of post hit and run pursuits for plate numbers.
And sometimes drivers back up or bump their pre-dented car into yours. It used to be a mob thing, with the accident-staging specialists working in groups. After the “accident,” the offending driver–often an elderly lady–is confronted by a crowd of “witnesses,” psychologically pressured and intimidated to pay up cash on the spot. Since the Age of the Dash-cam, hustle has withered from a flourishing enterprise to a dying trade, mainly thriving in the provinces where dash-cams are less prevalent.
And then, sometimes, someone will jump under your car at a crossing, laying on the asphalt, simulating a badly hurt pedestrian waiting for that cop conveniently parked nearby. This dramatic extortion scheme was common, until the Age of the Dash-cam. Oh, and there are such juicy, triumphant tales about of would-be extortion victims turning the scheme around and telling the cast members to pay them money or they’re going to jail for this little performance! Don’t try it.
While those lucky enough to traverse the Russian roads with an American or other Western passport are hassled less, the Russian Highway Patrol is notorious throughout their land for brutality, corruption, extortion and making an income on bribes.
Russian websites go for the uncut, the horrible accidents–trucks flipping over, people being smashed into pieces and sedans flying up in the air and exploding. Given that television programing is mostly vacuous and heavily censored, dash-cam videos are very popular in Russia. It’s uncensored–drama, comedy, tragedy, horror, thriller and educational genres fused into one super-genre of “dash-cam.” Who needs Klitschko when you can watch to tough guys box in the street?
To better understand and navigate this “community service”, here’s a Russian Dash-cam Video Thesaurus for the blog tag cloud. It is comprised of purposely misspelled hick and thug slang and phrases used sarcastically…while people die. Ah, Russian humour.
- поциент – “Patient.” The poor bastard, the dumb idiot in the video getting pulverized, run over or smashed into. A wordplay of “potz,” the Russian translation of the Yiddish “schmuck.”
- летчик – “Pilot.” The idiot who zooms by and crashes in the grand finale of a video.
- слабоумие и отвага – “Courage and dementia.”
- последние секунды жизни – “Last seconds of life.” Videos featuring persons before and after fatal accidents.
- кетай как всегда пиздец – “China is always fucked.” Clips from China that feature severe crashes and frequently feature passersby ignoring the bodies and car debris.
- кирпичи – “Bricks” (as in “shitting bricks.”) The audio track often features the driver panting or shouting the entire Russian vocabulary of swears at the top of their lungs. Used for videos with near misses or close shaves.
- железобетонное очко – “Anus of Concrete.” Honorific given to drivers who, faced with sudden danger like a huge truck coming head-on, remain calm, only saying “shoot” or “darn” quietly in the background, and efficiently steer away from danger, displaying some seriously fucking great driving skills.
- наварра – The infamous video featuring a black Nissan Navarra SUV swerving to the oncoming freight liner and being smashed into a cloud of small pieces. It is the metaphor for a gruesome, intense, fatal accident.
But there are moments of humanity among the Russian people,. At a city accident scene, you could see as many as twenty cars pulling over, drivers running out to the scene. This comes from the recognition of the fact that on a 300-mile stretch of uninhabited territory, help can only come from passing vehicles and not emergency services. Most Russian long-distance routes East of the Ural Mountains are that way. There is really only one highway like that in North America: the Western Canadian to Alaskan Stretch of the Pan-American Highway. The camaraderie between strangers, shoveling the snow and hailing a freight truck or tractor to pull the car out. The kudos. The cheers. The knowledge that you could be very well be next.
And don’t you forget it. Aside from the kindness of strangers, it’s just you and that little gadget versus the hell that is the Russian people on the road.