Tough measures urged to cut road deaths

This month Russia has seen a series of major road crashes involving shuttle buses. Hundreds of lost lives have pushed authorities to start taking radical action to improve the situation with road safety in the country.

Russia's Internal Affairs Minister says accidents like these are often not accidents, but criminal negligence.

The latest crash happened earlier this Wednesday in the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, where a shuttle bus overturned, killing a young girl and injuring five other passengers. Although there is not yet an official cause of the accident, a preliminary version speculates that the driver fell asleep at the wheel.

This is the third recent major road accident involving a passenger bus in the last ten days.

Another happened on July 24 in Russia’s southern region, when 21 people were killed. The bus collided head-on with a petrol tanker. It was traveling from Krasnodar to Rostov region on M4 highway, which is considered to be one of the most dangerous routes in Russia.

The cause is also yet to be confirmed but it’s believed the driver of the gasoline tanker crossed into the oncoming lane.

These are just samples of the severe road accidents occurring over the past week, and the situation is causing wide public concern.

Russia has a notoriously bad record when it comes to road safety. Traffic police say over 30,000 people are killed in road accidents each year and more than 300,000 people get injured. Just to give an idea of how horrible these figures are, one can say that Russia is responsible for two thirds of the accidents in the whole of Europe. The number is equal to population of a small town.

"Obviously, we need to nurture a culture of driving. There should be a clear understanding that poor behavior on the road can lead to disaster … In the past, there were fewer cars, and accidents killed only one or two people, but now, with the development of transport and tourism, the slightest violation of the rules causes the deaths of dozens of people," Zurab Kekelidze, Deputy Director of the Serbsky Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, said, RIA-Novosti news agency reports.

The Russian president has called for urgent measures to be put in place to help improve safety regulations on roads.

“We are talking about bringing the roads up to proper condition, but I think such impossible and unimaginable events happen not because of the terrible quality of our roads. It is one of the components, but it’s also a consequence of the way the traffic control is organized and a consequence of laxity and criminal carelessness of the drivers,” President Dmitry Medvedev said.

The Interior Ministry says it’s taking the matter very seriously and sees road rule violations as major crimes.

“The current state of things requires that far more effort is made. It’s necessary to develop legal thinking, road ethics and mutual politeness among road traffic members,” underlined the head of Russia’s Interior Ministry, Rashid Nurgaliev.

News about tipsy policemen getting involved in car crashes, sometimes using police cars, are occurring more often, recalled the minister. He pointed out that all citizens, irrespectively of their jobs and positions, are equal before the law.

“We’ve got to terminate this Saturnalia, it’s a shame to read through the reports,” said Nurgaliev.

The Minister has ordered unscheduled driving license tests for all personnel of the ministry who drive staff cars.

It’s not the first time this issue has been flagged. In April, the Department of Road Safety pressed for this issue to be a priority, and called for a top-level decision to help improve safety on Russia’s roads.

When the number of casualties reached 200 in past three days did the Public Chamber call for an urgent meeting to be held on Thursday to address the problem.

There are calls for putting in place such simple precautions as placing more electric lights on the roads and the obligatory use of safety belts, which is not common in Russia. But everyone can start improving the situation in the country by taking personal responsibility, be it pedestrians, drivers or police officers, underlined Nurgaliev.

“The sad statistics of this summer show that it’s impossible to change the situation with only punishments. It is time to engage seriously in the promotion of traffic safety, and it is time to appeal to the emotions and reason of men, and not only their wallets,” Sergey Mironov, Speaker of the Upper Chamber of Russia’s Federation Council, said to Interfax news agency.

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