And The Government That Enables Them
Firemen working to recover the remains of a car hit by a Lexus
on Moscow's Kutuzovsky Prospekt, September 14, 2007
One week ago Russia Blog reported about one government official's motorcade, which purposely collided head-on with an old Lada sedan. That car and its passengers were unlucky enough to be caught on a highway that was supposed to be closed to civilian traffic. The government motorcade that collided with the car was carrying Vyacheslav Lebedev, head of Russia's Supreme Court. The accident left one Russian citizen dead and two more severely injured. In spite of the reduced terrorist threat in the Russian Federation, the dangerous practice of escort vehicles knocking civilian cars out of the way of an official motorcade is still fairly common in Russia. This particular accident has captured the public's attention because of the overwhelming number of witnesses. Apparently, the police "clean-up" crew could not do its job fast enough to prevent ordinary citizens from snapping pictures with their cell phone cameras.
The driving situation in the streets of Russian cities, particularly in Moscow, has always been chaotic (see this, this and this, or just scroll down the crime section of Russia Blog). But a new development is even more shocking. In separate incidents over the last two days alone, drivers have been involved in hit and run accidents with three children.
Remains of a Lada sedan hit by the government motorcade
On Tuesday, a driver of a gold-colored Kia struck down a mom who was pushing a baby-stroller; the baby and the mom suffered severe injuries, but survived. The female driver abandoned her car in a quiet neighborhood, but was later identified and arrested the next day. On Wednesday, another 35 year-old female driver of a Mazda hit two boys (ages 8 and 10), slowed down, looked at what she had done, but then sped away, as dozens of witnesses looked on in disbelief (they smartly took down her license plate number). It took only a few minutes for the police to connect the car's plates to a Moscow cell phone number. The driver was "advised" to return to the scene immediately, which she did. Both boys survived.
In recent years the fines for traffic violations in Russia have grown ten-fold and the number of "blue lights" has decreased. However, with more Russians being able to afford cars than ever before, there are just as many accidents on the road as in previous years. Drivers still find it somehow acceptable to hit little kids and flee from the scene. What is the root of this problem?
The truth is that the country's leadership is a poor role model for safe driving, and because of that, no amount of fines will deter such behavior. It should be obvious that the head of Russia's Supreme Court has no business of such urgency that he needs to drive to Moscow in the opposite lanes of a highway at 100 + miles an hour, killing innocent citizens along the way. But such behavior is often overlooked, in part because the Western media tends to focus on less relevant issues instead of the actual human rights abuses (reckless driving by the new Russian "boyars", cops and officials demanding bribes, and the army draft) that affect ordinary Russians the most.
Another notable incident recently took place in Moscow involving a driver who was high on drugs. On the rainy night of September 14, 2007, a female driving with the headlights off lost control of her Lexus, destroying five cars, injuring four people and killing three more. The driver happened to be a friend of the assistant to the former Russian Economics and Trade Minister German Gref, who was not asked to join back the ministry earlier this week after he had been laid off with the rest of the government by President Putin two weeks ago. A relative of another recently fired minister, Zurabov, struck a pregnant woman with his car. Later driver was found not guilty due to her "mental condition". The list of negligent people, like drunken senior police officer Aleksey Krekov who wrecked four cars and many lives with his Jeep Grand Cherokee, is seemingly endless...
Remains of a Lexus...
President Putin's plan to boost Russian birth rates by offering $5,000 cash for the first baby and $10,000 for the second is good, but it loses its purpose if in only two days as many as three kids can get hurt or killed in auto accidents in one city. The perils of reckless driving long ago stopped being just a topic for casual conversation, and have become a threat to the demographics of the Russian nation and the daily safety of its drivers, pedestrians and children. Why bother spending money to improve roads and decrease death rates caused by poor public health, if the same officials pushing these reforms are the terrible role models and, through their negligence, the cause of multiple deaths on the streets of Russian cities?
One thing private Russian companies could learn from their American partners is to spend money on social advertisements before the school year begins, telling drivers that kids will be back to school soon and to watch out for them on city streets. Russian kids don't have school buses; the children walk 5-15 minutes to their local neighborhood schools. For their part, Russian government officials could similarly learn from their Western counterparts that everyone must be obedient and equal before the law in a modern democratic society.
Watch out for children on the roads!