President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, we are meeting to discuss a very difficult topic for our country and one that is fully relevant to our daily lives.
There are, of course, general causes. And there are also concrete events that occur. In July a few major accidents occurred on our roads. They happen all the time, but here there were simply a few very serious accidents that resulted in the deaths of large numbers of people. Dozens of people. Accidents with repercussions. Over a period of a few days, I have checked that, 300–400 people are killed on Russian roads. They just brought me more information: already today several people have been killed. There is a message from Volgograd reporting another crash, one from Krasnoyarsk, other places as well.
These tragic events oblige us to return once again to the topic of road safety and to recognise the fact – something that everybody already acknowledges – that the state of affairs in this area is very poor, simply unsatisfactory. This year alone the death toll was more than 11,000 people, and 110,000 people incurred wounds and injuries on our roads. But of course no figures, no indicators can measure the human misery associated with loss of loved ones. Neither on a road nor in normal life.
There is another side to the problem, the economic one. Experts estimate that over the past five years Russia’s cumulative loss from traffic accidents, the loss to the economy of our country, amounts to 5.5 trillion rubles. 5.5 trillion rubles: this is comparable to health care expenses for the same period. Of course, to be fair I must recall that decisions designed to improve road safety taken some time ago did produce results; it would be wrong not to acknowledge this. During the first six months of this year the number of road accidents fell by 7 percent and the number of road casualties by nearly 14 percent. These are the figures but to speak frankly, in comparison with other European countries we still have one of the highest levels of road casualties, one of the highest levels of risk. And ultimately the point is not how we compare with other countries, this is not the main thing. The point is that our roads were and remain very dangerous for our citizens.
I would like to say at once that of course what has happened is not the result of a fatal combination of circumstances, it was just the result of events. We know that life consists of small events, events that are just as sad, but simply occur in more isolated instances. And here all our problems were reflected, like in a mirror. Problems related to traffic control, road conditions, the responsibility of drivers, that is problems which have not yet been resolved comprehensively. I will refer to some of them at the start of the conversation.
First, today the responsibility of traffic organisation and management is vested in the executive authorities in charge of roads. The results of inspections conducted by the Presidential Control Directorate show, however, that actually no one is working on traffic control on the roads between municipalities and within municipalities. Yet it is precisely within cities and towns that almost two-thirds of all road accidents occur.
Second, another thing we all know well is that the situation around the major and routine repairs to our roads remains very, very bad. More than half the regions of our country do not provide the required amount of financing for these purposes. There are, of course, obvious reasons for this. We have had difficulties with this in recent years. We will not hide the fact that these difficulties increased during the financial crisis. This is true. Nevertheless, even in these circumstances we must do something.
Third. A major cause of accidents on our roads is the inadequate regulatory framework that governs the organization of traffic and road safety. I think that we should take a number of decisions on the basis of today's meeting, hard decisions, and even – if you want – radical ones in some respects. And you will have to submit specific proposals to me in a short time. The government commission which works on traffic safety issues [Government Commission on Traffic Safety] has to assume responsibility for the issues at hand. I think that we could return to this topic at the State Council Presidium.
A special aspect is providing medical assistance to victims. We started working on this as part of the national project, Health, and we were able to do something, but of course it was not enough. Our challenge is to reduce, and reduce significantly, the timeframe to report a car accident, the time between the accident and the arrival of emergency services, and the time taken to get healthcare facilities ready to receive the injured. This is a complex, daunting task and we have begun to work on it; we will also talk about it today.
Traffic control and road conditions are indisputably the main causes of road accidents and we'll talk about them as well. People point this out in all the letters they send us. But there is another important point that we tend to talk about less, and that is the fact that the road users themselves are often at fault. It’s true, we don’t like to talk about it: it’s often much easier to blame the traffic police, the rules, road conditions, lack of medical help, and that is as it should be, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a good look at ourselves. We must set the highest possible standards for our own behaviour. We know from reliable studies that 85 percent of road accidents are caused by human error, even though no one thinks that this applies to themselves or to those close to them. The main reason is that people disobey the rules of the road. Many people violate the rules because they don’t even know what they are.
Let’s recall what was said after the major accident that occurred in the Rostov region, when more than 20 people died. As I recall, both drivers had more than 20 years experience. They weren’t learners, they weren’t newcomers who just happened to be behind the wheel. They broke the rules but it’s unclear why. This is a problem of mentality, of education.
Of course in Russia children and adolescents aren’t taught much about these things and there is little attention paid to it at school. It has all become so commonplace, so routine. No one really cares and so we bury tens of thousands of people annually.
We need to raise the requirements for driver training. Currently driving schools have virtually no responsibility for the conduct of their graduates on the road. There is no up-to-date material or technical base, no qualified instructors, and we know how these schools give out licences: you bribe someone and the driver’s exam is a mere formality. The only thing you get out of going to such a school is a feeling of repugnance for it. And everyone here who has gone to one of these schools knows how things work there. It is not surprising that over a third of accidents are committed by drivers who have just received their licence, even though one would think that they would be especially careful about obeying the rules of the road.
There are a couple of other things that are much discussed in our society these days, including on my blog: the work of our colleagues in the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate [STSI] and the behaviour of drivers on the roads.
First, the STSI officers. Of course the main claim about the traffic police is that they do nothing to prevent possible infractions but simply confine themselves to punishing people for violations that have already been committed. That’s what people are saying: for a long time now it’s been no secret that they don’t try to prevent violations but only to punish people. They never stand near a new traffic sign to inform drivers who haven’t seen it but instead devote themselves to other activities. This requires the most careful attention by the Inspectorate itself and the Interior Ministry. It is a separate issue that needs to be discussed.
Finally, with respect to our driving culture, I have already started to talk about it. Of course we don’t choose our neighbours, those in the house or the apartment next to ours, and especially not on our roads. But our safety and comfort depend on this, and how we conduct ourselves is ultimately linked to the degree of respect we have for each other. The difference between the way we drive and the way people drive in other countries is always an example to us, even though perhaps it’s not a very pleasant one. It’s a question of mutual respect. In different ways this applies to everyone who takes part in everyday traffic and those who travel in special vehicles. In the long run it’s a question of culture and mutual respect, and these have very real consequences, highly dramatic or even tragic ones, or perfectly normal ones.
I hope we can have a serious discussion on this topic. We have organised the work as follows: first ten minutes for a report from our Head of Traffic Safety Department Viktor Kiryanov, then I will give the floor to key ministers and they will make three-minute presentations. We won’t get distracted: everyone knows what the problems are and we have to deal with them.