Telling a Driver When to Stop

MTA woman dashing across a crosswalk with her granddaughter in Moscow.
Twelve-year-old Artyom Morozov was midway through a crosswalk on Kashirskoye Shosse in southern Moscow when the Gazel minivan plowed into him.

The driver did not stop after striking the boy, running over him instead and crushing him with the van's rear wheels, according to Artyom's friends who witnessed the 2003 accident.

Artyom's mother, Zhanna Morozova-Sakharova, was at the scene a few minutes later, as their apartment was nearby. "What I saw is a nightmare that has haunted me for five years," she said.

As any pedestrian knows, crossing the street in Moscow is often a perilous undertaking. Rather than stopping at crosswalks, drivers often speed up to make sure pedestrians stay put.

"Our people are never safe from crazy drivers, even if they are in crosswalks with pedestrian traffic lights," said Yulia Bachinskaya, who heads a foundation that assists traffic accident victims.

More than 35,000 accidents nationwide involving cars and pedestrians were registered by police in the first six months of this year, State Duma Deputy Alexander Koval said last week. In that same period, 5,190 pedestrians were either injured or killed by cars while crossing the street in crosswalks, according to Interior Ministry data.

In an attempt to rein in drivers' rampant disregard for pedestrians' right of way, lawmakers have drafted a bill that would increase the fine for drivers who don't stop for people waiting at crosswalks to 1,000 rubles ($37), a tenfold jump from the current fine of 100 rubles ($3.70).

"While the driver is protected, the pedestrian is completely unprotected in crosswalks," Koval, who coordinates United Russia's road safety policies, told Interfax.

The bill was submitted to the Duma last week for eventual consideration. Road safety advocacy groups said that while increased fines would be welcome, the key to saving lives is improving Russia's driving culture, which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly described as "extremely low."

"There should be a serious campaign to change our driving culture," said Viktor Pokhmelkin, who heads the Motorists' Movement of Russia, an advocacy group.

Vyacheslav Lysakov, head of Free Choice Motorists' Movement, another advocacy group, called the current 100 ruble fine for not stopping for pedestrians "amusingly" small, but that in addition to an increased fine, more control is needed near crosswalks.

"It would be good if more traffic cameras were installed," Lysakov said.

The situation is improving in Moscow, with road accidents involving pedestrians this year down around 10 percent compared to last year, city traffic police spokesman Maxim Galushko said.

"We are constantly working on this," Galushko said, adding that traffic police have stepped up patrols near crosswalks not regulated by traffic lights.

Vehicular manslaughter is punishable by up to seven years in prison. The driver who killed young Artyom Morozov was stopped by police shortly after the accident. He had been talking on his cell phone when he hit the boy.

He was released after serving a year in prison and still has his driver's license, said Morozova-Sakharova, who said she sees him almost daily because he lives in her neighborhood.

Alexandra Yagnukova, 22, was luckier than Morozov. In April 2007, the Delta Airlines employee was crossing Prospekt Vernadskogo at a crosswalk near Moscow State University in southwest Moscow when she was struck by a van in a hit-and-run accident.

She regained consciousness in a hospital ward, where she was being treated for a concussion. "I never thought it could happen to me," Yagnukova said. "I was crossing on a crosswalk along with many other people beside me."

Bachinskaya, the head of the foundation to assist road accident victims, said she is "shocked" every time she returns to Russia from abroad.

"Drivers in Western countries always stop at crosswalks, its just normal for them," said Bachinskaya, the widow of popular radio host Gennady Bachinsky, who died in January when his car collided head-on with a minivan in the Tver region. "Here I am, always afraid to cross the street with my baby carriage."