Moscow deadly for pedestrians

Alexandra Yagnyukova thought she had little to fear when using a pedestrian crossing on a large thoroughfare near Moscow State University.

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MOSCOW // Alexandra Yagnyukova thought she had little to fear when using a pedestrian crossing on a large thoroughfare near Moscow State University, in the south-west district of the Russian capital. There were, after all, several other pedestrians crossing with her, and Ms Yagnyukova said she looked both ways before stepping onto the road. "The next thing I remember is waking up in a car and someone asking me if I knew what my name is," said Ms Yagnyukova, 23, an airline employee. The driver of the car that hit her while she was on the crossing stopped and called an ambulance, and beyond a few stitches she was relatively unharmed by the accident last year. "I guess I was pretty lucky," Ms Yagnyukova said. Perhaps nothing embodies the savage pace of life in the Russian capital like drivers' widespread disregard for pedestrians. Anyone who has ever attempted to cross a street in Moscow, even at a crossing or traffic lights, knows how fraught with peril this mission can be. Not only do Moscow drivers rarely stop for pedestrians, they often speed up to ensure the would-be crossers stay where they are. But the problem is not confined to Moscow. Russian authorities registered more than 35,000 road accidents across the country involving pedestrians and cars in the first six months of this year, said Alexander Koval, a road safety specialist and a member of Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma. According to data from the Russian interior ministry, in that same period a total of 5,190 pedestrians were killed or injured by cars while attempting to cross the street on crossings. The road safety department said in a statement in August it was becoming increasingly concerned with the number of car accidents involving pedestrians. Mr Koval has submitted legislation to the State Duma proposing a tenfold increase in the fine for drivers who refuse to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks to 1,000 rubles (Dh136). "While the driver is protected, the pedestrian is completely unprotected in crosswalks," he told state-run Interfax news agency. Such a law could prove effective in making drivers think twice before rumbling through a crosswalk, said Yulia Bachinskaya, head of a foundation that helps road accident victims. Ms Bachinskaya cited as an example a law that came into force this year increasing fines for people who do not buckle their seatbelts. "After increasing the fines for not buckling up, the number of unbuckled drivers dropped significantly," said Ms Bachinskaya, the widow of a popular Russian radio host killed in a car accident in January. "One could assume that the law [on crosswalks] would have the necessary effect." Ms Bachinskaya attributed Russian drivers' reluctance to cede pedestrians' right-of-way to "a lack of elementary driving culture". "In the West, drivers stop and allow pedestrians to cross," she said. "After returning to Russia, you immediately feel the sharp contrast. Only a few drivers let anyone cross, even at crosswalks." She said Russia could learn from western countries by implementing harsh and expensive punishments for violators of traffic laws. Russian drivers can often be heard complaining about "impudent" pedestrians walking willy-nilly about the road and crossing wherever they like. It is true that jaywalking in Moscow is rampant, and combined with drivers' utter disregard for crossings, a vicious circle is created in which it seems one is almost as likely to be hit by a car inside a crossing as outside. According to traffic police and road safety experts, Russian drivers claim that by not stopping at crossing they are actually doing pedestrians a favour. "Many drivers say that if they stop at a crosswalk, the driver in the next lane over won't and the pedestrian won't see the oncoming car," a traffic police spokeswoman said. Shocking scenes of cars crashing into mothers crossing the street with baby carriages have featured on the evening news in recent weeks on state-run television. Moreover, given the reckless driving in Moscow, stopping at a crossing can be dangerous for drivers too. Ms Yagnyukova, the airline employee who was run over last year, said a driver once crashed into the back of her brother's car as he stopped for a woman pushing a baby carriage on a pedestrian crossing. "The driver behind him didn't expect him to stop and slammed into his car from behind," she said. Ms Bachinskaya, who has a young child, said when she gets to a crosswalk with her baby she asks someone to watch the carriage while she steps out and checks for traffic and when the coast is clear they cross. "Unfortunately, a person with a child at a crosswalk does not always mean people will stop and let you pass," Ms Bachinskaya said.