'The chicken & the egg', or 'The Day I Realised Creating Driving Law is Like Parenting'

>> Monday, 26 November 2012

Hallelujah! Rejoice, brothers and sisters, for this morning what is nominally 5 marked lanes where we join the highway on the journey to drop Husband at the nearest Metro station became not 6, not 7, not 8, but - count 'em - 9 lanes of tailgate to bumper traffic.  I think - I think - that is a record.  I'm used to counting Sixes and Sevens and, on occasion, Eights, but today was the first time in 3 years that I've seen a Nine.

The only silver lining was that for once Husband was driving, thank the lord.  This in itself is unusual on a weekday and has been so for most of our sojourn here.  It's not that he can't drive, or doesn't like to; more that invariably I am dropping him somewhere so it makes sense for him to be able to hop out of the passenger seat quickly.  Given, you know, the traffic (did I mention that already?) and everything...

Being driven by Husband through the morning rush hour was an interesting experience.  I wouldn't say I manage to achieve a zen-like state of calm when behind the wheel these days, but petty annoyances like a big 4x4 edging in in front of me, the truck and mini-van collided in the centre lane forcing the traffic to execute complicated balletic manouevres around it, or the predatory militsia lying in wait at the edge of the road for the unwary driver moving into the bus lane too early, all of these things are now simple facts of life for me.  You just have to suck it up if you want to sit behind the wheel in Moscow and let it all wash over you.  Put some easy-listening fm on the radio and simply get on with it.

Husband, however, has not had quite such a long apprenticeship as a rush-hour driver in this city. (Why would he, when muggins here will do it for the price of having the car all day?)  So as you can imagine, his running commentary on the state of the road was a little less relaxed that mine normally is.  It was after his rantings (and no, I don't think that is too strong a word) on the matter of yet another lane being created out of nowhere by chancing-it drivers that I suggested perhaps he didn't drive enough here.  It was also when I commented that the road system in Russia is very much a chicken and egg situation.

What did I mean by that?  Well, there are various draconian rules and regulations here such as those about not turning left, not crossing an unbroken white line unless you want a fine, not crossing an unbroken double white line on pain of death, or not overtaking on a bridge or in a tunnel (no matter that they may be 6 lanes wide).   After much study time spent in jams pondering this situation it recently occurred to me that this authoritarian approach is counter productive.  The Russian driver is, you see, famously resourceful and will find any way they can to speed their journey up.  Like, for example, the creation of additional lanes on the highway.  Or the not infrequent sight of a car reversing down the hard shoulder of a motorway because it has missed the turn-off.  Or even better, reversing back onto the motorway because it's taken too early a turn-off.  None of these things are actually illegal - unless they cause an accident, of course - so they are 'respectable' driving tactics in some people's minds.

But it seems to me that the road chaos is the result of an impasse.  It's a bit like being a parent, really; if you assume your child is untrustworthy and will behave badly unless you rule them with a rod of iron, chances are that the moment they are let off the leash, that's exactly what they'll do.  So it is with the roads in Moscow: the authorities have imposed a set of rules that assume the average driver is an idiot and unable to think for themselves.  But because the law assumes the average driver is an idiot, and that an individual is unable to make a rational decision about whether it is safe to overtake or turn left etc,  guess what some people behave like the first opportunity they get?*

* Of course this theory does not in any way take into account what is often a lower value placed on human life (widely recognised as an issue for some here) or what is currently still a high number of incidents of DUI, but it's my blog and I'll deal with those issues another time...


manycoloured-days 26 November 2012 at 10:29  

Very funny. Husband's and my approach to driving in Kiev is very much similar.
Also, once I was driven somewhere by a Ukrainian. When someone cut in front of us and then committed some other visible minor offenses, my Ukrainian friend pointed ahead gleefully - that's a Russian driver, not one of us!

Circles in the Sand 26 November 2012 at 13:12  

You sound very brave to me Potty Mummy! Respect! :-)

MsCaroline 27 November 2012 at 03:28  

Hmmm This sounds remarkably like Seoul, except police never pull you over for anything, as long as you don't injure someone. In Seoul, you may not turn left on a green light - only with a green arrow - even if there is no traffic oncoming. However, this rule is widely ignored. In fact, one day I was sitting at a green light (waiting for the arrow, rule-follower that I am) and got beeped at loudly by the impatient driver behind me - who turned out to be a police car. Even worse, had I actually gone when he beeped, I would have hit some pedestrians who were (legally) in the crosswalk....what was that you were saying about 'value of human life'?

jeanie 27 November 2012 at 04:45  

Ah, this brightened my day in a "thank goodness I didn't have to deal with that" sort of way...

nixdminx 27 November 2012 at 08:25  

Hilarious...over here, while much less glamorous and far flung, I think this may be universal, well, I notice similar rods of iron and rule flouting in my home town. Each London Borough has a unique take on traffic rules, and type of character on the road. From the ubiquitous double parking in Notting Hill to the over enthusiastic parking attendants in Chelsea (breathe in; get a ticket, breathe out; get a ticket. Although I've yet to see nine lanes...

Expat mum 27 November 2012 at 23:27  

Don't get me started on CHicago drivers. They try to edge in but will not make eye contact, so you just have to pretend you can't see them (return the no-eye-contact thing) and don't give 'em an inch. Of course, if they would only smile politely, point and "ask" if they could push in I'd be only too happy to let them. That's our chicken and egg situation - bad behaviour begets bad behaviour.

Potty Mummy 29 November 2012 at 18:26  

MCD, but of course - a Ukranian WOULD say that.. ;) (And they would be right).

Circles - it's a question of necessity rather than bravery, tbh.

MsC, not just here, then?

Jeanie, always glad to be of service!

NM, what, not even on the North Circular?

EPM, funny enough joining a traffic lane is less of an issue here. Maybe because we (drivers) feel we're all in this shxt together...

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