After the holiday, I heard the sad news that a centimillionaire business acquaintance had lost the opportunity to enjoy his wealth with his small daughter, son and beautiful wife by crashing his Merc on Rublovskoye Shosse while speeding home late at night. Sad news, and even sadder that this is just one addition to the awful traffic accident statistics in Bedrock, which account for 13% of the traffic deaths in a country that has the highest road death rate in Europe. The combination of inexperienced but aggressive drivers who consider seatbelts unmanly (or unwomanly as the case may be), poor road conditions, and just plain stupidity, has made proximity to the road one of the most dangerous places to be in this country, whether by car or on foot.
One day last week, the morning news reported that 28 accidents had been “registered” in the previous 24 hours. I’m not sure what “registered” means in this context, but it surely bears no relationship to the number of accidents – every day I see at least one accident in the ten minutes it takes to get Fred Jr. to the school bus in the morning. Just today, in the hour and a half I spend on the road, covering about 55 kilometres, I counted five traffic accidents. And if the damaged vehicles were sitting in the road, it means they were waiting for the GAI (traffic police) to write it up for insurance purposes. I guess these write-ups don’t count as “registered.”
Most accidents are relatively minor rear end collisions. Bedrock drivers love to sit a metre off the back of your car, even at high speed, oblivious to the effect that a quick brake from the car in front will have. But even in a minor accident, a seatbelt can reduce injury or even save a life. But, of course, no self-respecting Bedrock driver would ever wear one.
In my early years in Bedrock a GAI would stop a driver without a seatbelt, so drivers symbolically pulled the belt across them (but did not latch them). I remember that one of my business associates substituted a bright, wide pair of suspenders for his missing seatbelt. A few years ago I asked my regular driver why he didn’t wear seatbelts. He first responded that he could brace himself in an accident, and followed with a second answer, “If I get in an accident and die, anyway it is fate.”
Today, when you catch a gypsy cab and start to belt up, more likely than not the driver will tell you it’s not necessary. He’s referring to the fact that the GAI no longer stops drivers for not wearing a seatbelt, and I suppose it insults his skill as a driver.
Modern cars have seat belt alarms, but Bedrock drivers are nothing if not ingenious. During a recent trip to the regions, we had official drivers. When an officer picked us up in a late-model Camry, the seat belt was missing, and in its place a plug (the metal clip without the belt) was latched in to defeat the seat belt alarm. Later, we transferred to another latemodel import with an OMON (special forces) driver; this time the front belts were strung around the back of the seats and latched in permanently.
Just for fun, to see some of the marvellous Bedrock driving techniques, google “Lefortovo Tunnel video.” This is a one-minute video taken from fixed traffic cams inside this new tunnel on the Third Ring and shows an astounding sequence of spectacular accidents at just this one location.