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20 May, 2010 03:36

Moscow drivers get angry with misused flashing lights

Moscow is known for its busy roads with endless traffic, but the light is always green for cars equipped with a blue flashing light – those of the emergency services and high-level officials.

But as another crash involving a VIP-car with its emergency signals on shocks citizens, they insist the privilege should be limited to put an end to serious violations on the road.

They add that the notorious capital traffic is made worse by reckless maneuvering, almost endless congestion and too many collisions. And they’re blaming the drivers with special privileges – those with police-type blue lights mounted on their cars.

More than 900 are in use, but should only be used for official business. Yet angry commuters say the emergency lights are flashing any time the VIPs take a trip.

Boris Kagarlitsky from the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements believes that the anger is largely caused by the fact that using blue lights has become synonymous with class privilege.

The problem is not that there are too many blue lights for the ambulances, but that you can simply buy your way through…if you belong to the upper class. It is a privilege that is making people very angry," Kagarlitsky said.

Using the blue lights essentially makes the owner an on-the-road-Moses, giving him power to part traffic by forcing others to give way.

“A lot of cars with sirens rush past us as we’re just standing still. One day I decided it wasn’t right and the status quo should be changed,” said one of the protesters – Aleksey Frolov.

Lawyer Igor Trunov, on the other hand, believes that it is corruption and failure of the police to control the use of blue lights that angers the drivers.

“The problem is not flashing lights – the problem is impunity and a lack of proper legal regulation. When something happens, we can't get information, statistics – nothing,” Trunov said. “The law completely closes police activity to the public and is frankly designed to do so. The law is always on their side. It can always be interpreted in a manner needed to corrupt officials.”

Just this week another crash was captured by eyewitnesses as a car, complete with siren blaring, jumped the queue by heading into oncoming traffic.

Those who saw the accident say armed security guards removed the blue light and license plates from the car, whisked the high-profile passenger away and tried to make sure no pictures or video were taken.

Now, Muscovites are getting together in protests across the capital to put their road rage in gear – and demand change.

Some tape blue buckets to their cars, or attach blue cups to themselves, in a display of defiance. Others have gone to the net. Witnesses post videos of accidents allegedly caused by owners of blue lights. Protesters insist there would be fewer crashes if there was greater equality on the road.

“Only the police, ambulances and fire vehicles should have blue flashing lights; maybe, as a sign of great respect, the President and Prime Minister could also use the lights. All others who are afraid of traffic jams should take the Metro,” protestor Georgy Bovt says.

A bill put before lawmakers would slap a fine on those who misuse their emergency signals. Violators would also have their diver’s license suspended.

However, until changes get the green light, Moscow motorists will have to put up with the blues.