Moscow Hit With Burst of Road Rage

Alexander Lavrushin was crossing Prospekt Vernardskogo on his way to class at Moscow State Pedagogical University when the driver of a Mercedes coupe stopped his car, got out and punched him twice in the face.

Lavrushin, 17, died on the spot, which might have come as a surprise except that the driver, Anatoly Siluyanov, was an unemployed 20-year-old man on his way home from Greco-Roman wrestling practice, the Trud newspaper reported last month.

Siluyanov told police that he was angry because Lavrushin had crossed the street too slowly and kicked his car with his foot, the Vesti-24 news channel said.

Road rage appears to be a growing problem as traffic jams worsen in Moscow, although no official statistics are kept on what is seen as a Western phenomenon.

"Five or six years ago, this kind of crime was unheard of," said Vyacheslav Lysakov, head of an organization of drivers, the Free Choice Motorists' Movement.

He said the situation on the road largely has improved in recent years, as drivers and pedestrians increasingly respect each other and the law. "Still, Russia is beginning to see more cases of what had previously been a more strictly Western phenomenon -- uncontrollable violence on the road," he said.

Road Rage

Last fall saw an unprecedented outbreak of road rage incidents in Moscow including:
Sept. 3: A shouting match over who had the right of way ended with one driver shooting the other in the hip in southern Moscow.
Sept. 22: An angry driver shot dead a road worker after street repairs damaged a wheel on his Mercedes.
Oct. 8: A driver who had driven onto a sidewalk near the Kitai Gorod metro station got into an argument with three pedestrians and shot each of them.
Oct. 24: A driver shot dead a construction worker after one of the tires on his Mercedes was damaged by a piece of equipment at the construction site near the Kuntsevskaya metro station.
Dec. 4: An argument spurred by a collision in the Balashikhin suburb of Moscow led one driver to threaten another with a gun and rob him of $8,500.
In January: Tow truck workers reported several cases of being attacked by angry drivers.
-- MT
In a span of just a few weeks in September and October, a rash of road rage incidents, many involving guns, gripped Moscow. The most aggressive driving takes place in the early fall when people come back into the city from the summer vacations, explained Dmitry Sergeyev, a teacher at the Nonextreme Driving School.

In the United States, there is debate on whether road rage -- defined as wild, confrontational or violent behavior on the road -- is simply an extreme form of aggressive driving or constitutes its own psychological disorder. But the phenomenon is well-known. Driving schools across the United States teach their students not only to keep themselves calm, but how to avoid provoking other drivers as well.

In Russia, meanwhile, the specific term for road rage -- dorozhnaya yarost -- is virtually unknown to anyone but a few traffic police officers and psychologists.

"I don't like the term road rage because it came from the West, just like the problem itself, and it doesn't accurately describe the unhealthy psychological state of the people who commit such acts," said Viktor Pokhmelkin, head of the Movement of Russian Motorists.

Police do not keep any statistics about road rage and do not consider it a psychological problem per se, said Moscow police spokeswoman Natalya Aliseyenko.

Police, however, readily acknowledge that aggressive driving is a problem. A well-publicized study by the Interior Ministry's department of road safety found that 80 percent of car accidents are caused by aggressive driving.

"Unfortunately, the danger posed by angry drivers comes as part of our job," said Maxim Galushko, a Moscow traffic police spokesman.

Dmitry Sinaryov, a psychologist, linked the emergence of road rage to the quality of life in Moscow. "Moscow suffers from road rage partly because of the terrible traffic situation and partly because of the stressful way of life," he said. "As these factors become even worse in Moscow, road rage will continue to rise."

A simple step toward keeping calm on the road is to take up a hobby to relax, Sergeyev said. But, he added, "the traffic problem must be fixed or nothing will improve."

Senior government officials also have seen a link between traffic jams and violence. Last month, State Duma leaders suggested that an outbreak of automobile arson incidents in Moscow was the result of the city government's failure to end the jams, Vremya reported.

Drivers themselves need to learn how to act behind the wheel, then-President Vladimir Putin said in 2005. "We meet an extremely low culture of behavior on the roads," Putin told a State Council meeting that discussed traffic accidents.

But drivers' advocates like Lysakov said the government was contributing to the problem rather than being than part of the solution.

"The government needs to develop a positive image of the good driver. The first step toward doing that would be setting a good example. That means no more blue lights," he said, referring to the system that lets senior government officials equip their cars with flashing blue lights that allow them to bypass traffic.

Not all road experts think that there is a clear political solution to the rise of road rage, however. "Perhaps 15 percent of Russian drivers have the potential to behave in this way, and there's very little the government can do to stop what is essentially a global problem," Pokhmelkin said.

Additionally, many remain unconvinced that road rage poses any kind of threat.

"Aggressive driving, of course, is rampant in Moscow," Sergeyev said. "But in 15 years as a driving instructor here, I have not once seen violent behavior on the road. I've never been to the West, but so far I don't think road rage is a major problem for Russia. Once the government fixes the traffic, we'll be alright."