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Controversy Over Russian Safe-Driving Legislation

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in the year 2010, motor vehicle collisions caused an estimated 1.24 million deaths worldwide, down (slightly) from 1.26 million in 2000. (These totals are tallied a few years after the baseline year from the latest data available.) This generates an average fatality rate of 18 people per 100,000, which is down from 20.8 in 2000. And it means that on average, around the world, one person dies from a road crash every 25 seconds.

The WHO count groups countries according to income levels and averages and analyzes death rates accordingly. And from this we learn, for example, that:

• high-income countries have the lowest annual road traffic fatality average rate at 8.7 per 100,000.

• middle-income countries have the highest annual road traffic fatality average rate at 20.1 per 100,000.

• middle-income countries account for 72% of the world’s population, have only 52% of the world’s registered vehicles, but 80% of world wide road traffic deaths.

• Canada and the United States, both high-income countries, have 6 and 11.6 per 100,000 respectively.

• Russia, a middle-income country has 18.6 per 100,000 or approximately 30,000 fatalities per year in a population of 143 million. While close to the US annual total of 33,000, Russia’s population is less than one half of the US’s 316 million.

While these statistics indicate why Russia should be trying to improve its road safety performance, they do not help us with understanding its methods, which recently caught the attention of the world press when a new law signed by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev at the end of 2013 and published in December 2014 blocks or removes licences of citizens with medical impairments. These reportedly include mental and behavioural disorders as defined by the WHO’s international classification of diseases —a broad classification that by some reports, includes identity issues.

The international press, of course, had a ‘field day’ with bizarre headlines suggesting the oppression of people who may be uncertain as to how they fit into the grand scheme of things, without reference to their realistic driving skills. This generated a clarification from the Russian government that the new decree would only be enforced against people suffering “chronic and prolonged mental disorders with severe or persistent symptoms.”

Some Russian lawyers, according to the latest media reports, have called the new law ‘discriminatory’ and said they would demand clarifications from the Russian Constitutional Court and seek support from international human rights organisations.

A spokesperson for the Russian Psychiatric Association, Valery Evtushenko reportedly told the BBC that he is worried that in light of this decree “people will avoid seeking psychiatric help so that they can still drive.” But media reports also note that within Russia organizations such as the Professional Drivers Union support this new decree on the basis of the need for improvement in Russian road safety.

In case this gets lost in a discussion that may go off on a tangent, let us be clear that driving too fast and without due care are the well-established causes of most fatal traffic accidents.

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