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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

I Apologize, But That GAI Works for Me

To all of you in possession of red diplomats' or yellow correspondents' or otherwise conspicuous license plates, I may owe you an apology. I could be the recipient of the fines you pay in the next few days. I didn't do it on purpose.


In fact, I didn't know what hit me. At 1 a.m. Sunday morning, the tunnel beneath Mayakovskaya Ploshchad was pitch-black, and whoever slammed into me from behind had no headlights.


My first thought was that he had done it on purpose: an out-of-control New Russian helping me go faster. Why else would someone crash into a moving vehicle in a deserted tunnel?


I sped up to get away. A couple of hundred meters later, though, I realized I should stop. Traffic rules demand that following an accident, vehicles must stop dead in their tracks, regardless of the dangers of the surrounding traffic or the inconvenience to other drivers. The purpose of this rule, as is the case for many other Russian regulations, is to ensure that any person is a priori in violation of the rules.


The other car, what had once been a Lada, was stopped about 90 meters behind me. The bloody mess of a driver was slumped over in the front seat.


"Ambulance?" asked someone from the first group of traffic policemen to arrive. (We were stopped on their territory, but, as it turned out, the accident had occurred on another GAI division's turf, so we had to wait an hour for another group to arrive.) "What [expletive] ambulance?" responded his partner, helpfully stuffing some roadside snow up the driver's bleeding nose.


Rule No. 2 of traffic accidents: Never seek medical help. I once had a traffic policeman helping me steady my arm as blood from my head dripped onto his uniform just so I could write that I needed no medical help. An accident report that mentions injury leads to a court investigation, and no one wants that.


In fact, no one wants formally to register an accident at all. The driver at fault risks losing his license. The injured party has nothing to gain either, since the best one can hope to get from the courts is an order for the guilty party to forfeit a portion of his official salary over the course of a couple of years. That's usually something like one-twentieth of the cost of a headlight monthly. The traffic cops from both groups leaned over my Volvo, shook their heads understandingly, and agreed there was damage in excess of $1,000.


As the cops -- there were now eight of them -- entertained themselves by stopping and fining passing cars, each group was working its own turf, the other driver and I worked out an arrangement. I would take his driver's license and car documents and return them only after he'd paid for the damages.


"That's a good arrangement," agreed one of the officers. "It would cost him $700 to buy a new license and another $1,000 for new car documents, so he might as well pay you $1,200."


The good news is, there is a chance the guy will actually pay up. The bloody drunk turned out to be an off-duty traffic cop. "I'll just work the streets a couple of days and I'll have the money," he promised.





Masha Gessen is a correspondent for Itogi.