ROAR: Russian roads need reform

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Russian media report on the latest major traffic accidents and ask what can be done to improve the situation on the roads.

The accidents have confirmed the fact that Russia has among the worst traffic accident statistics in the world. According to official numbers, more than 30,000 people die on Russian roads every year, and only 20% of regional roads meet international safety standards.

Terrible traffic accidents have occurred all over the country in the last few weeks. According to the traffic police department of the Russian Interior Ministry, on only two days – July 25 and 26 – more than 1,300 traffic accidents occurred in Russia, in which 222 people were killed, including 7 children and more than 1,800 people were injured, Rossiya weekly reported. More than 80 of these accidents were caused by drunk drivers, it added.

In one of the latest bloodiest crashes, at least 11 people were killed in a multiple-car crash in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on July 28. Only four days earlier, 21 people were killed and about 30 injured in a crash when a bus collided with a tanker truck in the southern Rostov Region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at a meeting with members of the country’s Security Council on July 24, demanded that the federal laws on road safety be changed.

Medvedev ordered the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office “to clear the situation out,” the papers say. He stressed that the accident was not an exception and called the tragedy “a result of lax discipline and criminal negligence.”

The accident in the Rostov Region, which occurred on a part of the M-4 Don Highway, followed another crash involving a Mercedes bus in the Novosibirsk Region on July 20. Eight passengers died and 39 were injured, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

The driver of the bus has been accused of negligence. According to a spokesman for the local traffic police, the driver was speaking on the telephone with his colleague at the moment of the accident.

However, observers believe there could be other reasons behind the accident, and one of the most important ones is the bad condition of Russian roads. The taiga.info website writes about this, stressing that a particularly dangerous turn often causes problems for many drivers at that part of the highway.

The M-4 Don highway, in its turn, is considered to be one of the most dangerous roads in the country. Many vacationers go south during summer, while trucks transport southern fruits to central and northern parts of the country, observers say.

Medvedev believes that too little is being done in the field of security and control on the roads. He stressed that the dismal quality of roads was only part of the problem.

“The greater part is the laxity of control on the road and a criminal lack of discipline among road users,” Medvedev was quoted in the media as saying. He said the traffic police and other law enforcement agencies must “bring the situation on the roads into order.”

Rossiya weekly has called the situation on Russian highways over the last weeks “a triumph of road genocide.” The paper mentioned the crashes near Rostov, Novosibirsk and in Dagestan, as well as accidents on the Moscow Ring Road, in Krasnodar Region and the city of Perm.

The paper quoted Medvedev as saying that no other country has witnessed these levels of road accidents, “except maybe the least developed states.”

However, the press asks what is to be done in this field and report on steps taken by the state bodies. Russia’s Prosecutor General’s reported on it website that prosecutors in the region have been ordered to increase control over the observance of rules of the road.

A great deal of such accidents are caused by the tiredness of drivers because of the non-observance of regulations of a work and rest schedule, the website said.

The Transport Ministry approved proposals by the Prosecutor General’s Office to equip all trucks and buses used in long-distance transportation with devices that control the observance of the work and rest routine and a designated route. However, the bus which crashed in Novosibirsk Region was equipped with this kind of device, the media noted.

The government constantly toughens punishments for breaking the rules of the road. Fines were increased in May 2009, but the situation has not improved dramatically since then. According to a poll conducted by Profi Online Research in June, 35% of respondents do not believe that anything will change despite the fines.

Some 41% of pedestrians surveyed said they did not know that the fines had been increased for breaking rules while crossing a road. However, more than a quarter of drivers said that they had begun to make way for pedestrians.

The problems on roads are well-known to everyone, the papers write. They mention the practice of “paying the fine on the spot”, or bribes that traffic police officers take from drivers and the corruption of officials responsible for the construction and repair of roads.

The lack of respect of drivers towards each other and the purchase of driving licenses seem to be the standard modes of the behavior, papers write. Even the head of the Interior Ministry’s Department of Traffic Safety, Viktor Kiryanov, said that “it is frightful to be on Russian roads because many are indifferent there,” Nakanune.ru website wrote.

As for the latest road toll of bloody accidents, they have not become the norm only in the last two years, Rossiya wrote. “The need to reform the traffic police, the Transport Ministry and all other state institutions involved is long overdue,” the paper said.

The Russian Public Chamber will try to find ways of improving the situation on the roads at a meeting on July 30. Governors of the regions where there have been major accidents, along with representatives of law-enforcement agencies, have been invited to the meeting.

“Measures should be taken as soon as possible, but repressive methods alone will not improve the situation,” Anatoly Kucherena, head of the Chamber’s commission on supervising law-enforcement agencies was quoted in the media as saying.
Kucherena believes that public structures should take part in solving this problem. However, he did not explain how they could help.

Rashid Nurgaliev, the Russian Interior Minister, promised to check the whole situation on the roads and at the same time called on all drivers “to be cautious, not to violate rules and not to drive at high speed,” Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.

It seems that the latest accidents have prompted a discussion about the situation on Russian roads. The two main methods proposed are improving the condition of highways and toughening penalties against drivers who break the rules.

If need be, deputies of the State Duma will propose new measures to make the punishment more severe, Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian parliament, said.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the Duma's legislation committee, has already proposed bringing the rules of the road under federal jurisdiction.

In his turn, Gryzlov thinks that the quality of driver training should be improved, and control over the situation on roads strengthened. He also spoke in favor of using modern technical equipment on roads, he said.

Incidentally, the media are used to citing famous historian Nikolay Karamzin’s remark: “Russia has two misfortunes: its roads and its fools.” It seems that both roads and fools are becoming increasingly dangerous for the country. It is not accidental that Gryzlov said this was “a question of a national security.”

Sergey Borisov, RT