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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ring Road Gets New, Safer Look

They call it the Ring of Death.

Hundreds of people die each year in car accidents on the 150-kilometer highway that encircles Moscow. Dark in many places, with nothing but a sandy median separating drivers from oncoming traffic, the road has long been a notorious site of head-on collisions.

Yury Shabanov, head engineer for Moscow's traffic police, vows to change all that.

Under his direction, new concrete lane dividers and lampposts have been installed along over one-third of the road, from Varshavskoye Shosse in the south to Shchelkovskoye Shosse in the northeast.

Stretches of the road equipped with the new dividers have already seen a decrease in the number of accidents, especially head-on crashes, since their installation, he said.

Shabanov cited one 92-kilometer stretch where the number of accidents in the first five months of 1994 had fallen to 14, from 37 in the first five months of 1993, before the dividers were installed. Five of the 1993 crashes were head-on collisions, while there were no head-on collisions in 1994, he said.

However, some drivers and traffic police fear the dividers themselves may bring new dangers -- such as making it more difficult for emergency vehicles to avoid traffic jams.

Some even said they feared the gradually sloping sides of the dividers could work as a kind of jump ramp if a car accidentally drove onto the four-inch concrete base from which the waist-high walls rise in a gentle curve.

"If you ride up on it just a bit, the car can flip over," said Nikolai Stepanov, the traffic police officer in charge of a northwestern stretch of the road near Leningradskoye Shosse, where workers were installing dividers Tuesday.

The slope of the dividers, made in suburban Moscow, is more gradual than those used on many highways in the West. But Shabanov said they had been specially designed, "so that if you drive up on it, the wheel automatically turns to the right," and the car returns to its lane.

Stepanov said there had been one accident near Shosse Enthuziastov where a car had "flown" over the divider into the opposite lane.

Traffic police confirmed this.

One Moscow driver, who identified himself only as Sergei, called the fears of flipping cars "nonsense." "You could also drive off a bridge, but that doesn't show anything," he said. "It will stop head-on collisions -- that's something."

Despite new safety measures, Shabanov said, the accident rate is still on the rise and the road still deserves its macabre nickname. He said there were 154 accidents in all on the road from January to May 1994, up from 146 in the same period of 1993. "One for every kilometer," he said.

Shabanov blamed the increase on mushrooming levels of crime and traffic. Some areas of the road handle up to 5,000 cars an hour, he said.