Friday 14 August 2015

Driving in Russia

The web is full of horror clips of Russian traffic incidents – lorry rollovers, appalling roads, careering speedsters, bodies flying, grim statistics – so we arrived with trepidation. China had been a breeze with European-standard highways, if somewhat inexperienced drivers in new powerful cars. We enjoyed driving there.

So here, with 2 days driving to go, is what we have found in Russia. Yes there are fender bender accidents. We have seen several with forlorn drivers and weary police exchanging details. The Lada driver wondering where he will get parts for repairs, the BMW driver anxiously checking her insurance.

ALL drivers have a mobile phone to the ear. All drivers stop at pedestrian (called zebra here) crossings, even without lights and even out on the highway next to bus stops. Trucks don’t pass over unbroken lines. Cars sometimes do, and oncoming traffic, blind corners or crests don’t deter. The oncoming car merely makes room. Although here in the tourist zone where roads are better, and traffic faster, lights are flashed with some rancour.

Police are very visible on highways. There are random checks, and not many days go by without us being pulled over. The standard routine is a stern but curious approach, a lot of questioning in Russian to which we usually answer “Australia” and sometimes pull out car documents or offer licenses to further puzzlement. Then the head starts to shake, the palms go up, and we are waved on with a laugh and a handshake, but not before his mate arrives and they snap each other next to the cars. Next day it’s the same. We’ve never detected any attempt to extract a bribe.

Support for our classic cars is universal. Waves, photos, thumbs up, fist pumps, smiles, toots (from very close trucks), flashing lights, hanging out clapping. When they pass there is a salute of flashing hazard lights.

Roads and streets are well signposted, uniformly throughout the regions we’ve seen, ie south to the Caucasus, east to Ekaterinburg, and now in the north-west. Roadkill is rare, and only foxes so far. There is a genuine attempt at road maintenance and the roads are well-built initially, but the volume of heavy traffic as well as the size of the country highlight the inevitable budget inadequacy at all levels. See some of our previous posts about roads and vehicle damage.

“Service stations” generally provide fuel only, pre-paid through a small exterior window. No water, air pump, oil, paper, anywhere to clean diesel hands. The exceptional tiny minority offer oil, snacks, ice cream, but no iced coffee (where is Parmalat when you expect to see them everywhere?). As we get nearer to the tourist zone between Moscow and St Petersburg we have seen one Shell servo. As these spread hopefully it will put pressure on the rest to shape up.

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