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19 Oct, 2010 04:52

Corrupt driver education system blamed for high Russian road toll

Russia is world known for its bad roads and reckless driving style, but the price paid for the world recognition stands high – almost 30,000 people annually lose their lives in traffic accidents.

In 2009 alone there were nearly 204,000 car accidents in Russia.

The human cost was 26,000 deaths and more than a quarter of a million people seriously injured.

“We have very busy traffic, which has been poorly organized and which requires improvement,” said driving instructor Nikolay Panasenko. “Interchanges have been built inefficiently; traffic lights haven’t been working properly; and road signs are located in such way that drivers often cannot see them – all of these result in numerous accidents.”

The International Transportation Forum lists Russia as having the most traffic deaths per capita in the world.

Many believe corruption and a general lack of knowledge are to blame.

Potential drivers are supposed to go to driving school, where they would learn to drive on a closed practice course and learn the written theory of driving and then pass a test. Unfortunately, this is not how it happens in many cases around Moscow.

“There are two different problems related to fake driving licenses,” said Filipp Zolotnitsky, from the economic crimes unit at Moscow police. “The first one is related to criminal groups issuing fake licenses of such a high quality that only a specialist can see it’s a fake. People buy a fake license and think it’s a real one. The other problem is bribing in driving schools in order to pass the money to the State Road Traffic Safety Inspection.”

Lena purchased her license illegally for 24,000 rubles.

“That was that money I officially paid for my driving school. I was supposed to attend classes and so on, but I was living in St. Petersburg at the time, so I couldn’t show up at the school,” Lena added.

But as Lena learned, learning how to drive properly isn’t as essential as having the proper pay off.

“My father said the officials would blackmail me for money and that is why there was no need for me to obtain my license in a traditional way,” Lena recalled. “It’s easier to buy it. He took me to some distant metro station in a Moscow suburb. There they invited me to a room. They issued my driving license and took my photograph. I was so much ashamed. I said, ‘I am sorry. I will really learn how to drive.’ And they answered, ‘It doesn’t matter for us.’”

And now, even Lena thinks she may be a threat on the road.

“I have a feeling that I am a threat to pedestrians. A few days ago I failed to see a bicycle rider in the dark,” she said.

Many are calling for a complete overhaul of Russia’s driver education system.

“It is not enough to fire a bribe-taker – it is necessary to change the entire system,” said Sergey Kanavin, head of the Moscow Rep. Office of the Car Owners Federation. “As long as there is demand, there will be supply.”