According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over a million people worldwide are killed in traffic accidents every year. Experts offer disheartening forecasts: unless the situation improves, the number of victims will increase by 65 percent in the next 20 years. The same is true of Ukraine, where the numbers of traffic accident victims are rising, while the numbers of resulting bodily injuries place our country far ahead of most other countries.
Experts believe that the main causes of traffic accidents are the lack of a culture of driving, ignorance of basic traffic rules, and bad roads and highways. Young drivers are a major risk group. So say the Ukrainian Insurance House, Ltd. and the Ukraine Defense Relief Society, the organizers of a roundtable that deliberated the causes of traffic accidents in Ukraine. They believe that this issue should have been placed on the national agenda long ago, as the developed countries did.
“We have to change driver education programs at once. The programs we have are glaringly obsolete. We have different models of cars and different people, but they are still teaching people how to drive in such obsolete car models as the GAZ-53, KAMAZ, VAZ (popularly known as the kopiika or bliashanka, in other words, a piece of junk). Another serious drawback is poor knowledge of traffic rules; we must introduce driver education based on psycho-physiological parameters. Our current training programs lack such an important and indispensable parameter as parking techniques,” insists Myron Bandrivsky, president of the Association of Driving Schools of Ukraine.
According to Colonel Vasyl Zaichenko, head of the Traffic Safety Center at the Traffic Control Department (DAI) of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, one of the main reasons behind the high rate of traffic accidents is inadequate legislation. Drivers have ways of avoiding criminal responsibility for violating traffic rules. “A minibus driver was apprehended and charged eight times for driving under the influence in Zhytomyr oblast, and each time he got off with a warning. This practice is inadmissible,” Zaichenko says.
Experts say that in Europe drivers who violate traffic rules are fined from 20 to 25 euros, so they try to observe these rules. For example, in Germany traffic moves rather quickly because most drivers stick to the rules. What about Ukraine? There are constant traffic jams and accidents in large cities, and traffic rules are constantly flouted simply because a fine is the equivalent of five liters of gas.
Our roads are another major problem. They were built under the Soviets and cannot cope with modern traffic. Experts stress that the constant traffic jams on city streets irritate drivers and often cause traffic accidents. Kyiv’s 100 tow trucks cannot cope with all the cars blocking traffic. At the same time, the better and wider a road or highway, the greater the number of traffic accidents caused by speeding.
Colonel Zaichenko believes that a new law should be enacted to protect people from the onslaught of automobiles (the number of cars on Ukrainian highways increase with every passing year). Such a law would envisage harsher punishments for violations of traffic rules, including increasing fines by five times. As it is, we have to wait for the next session of the Verkhovna Rada to protect the lives of drivers and pedestrians.