Thursday, December 14, 2006

Theory in the Fast Lane

My lovely wife and I were talking about driving in Russia, and one of the biggest differences that I can't get over is how many traffic-related deaths occur annually. I won't cite numbers, but it's much higher than the US rate, and this fact is amazing only because the US has something like 3-4 times as many cars per capita as Russia.

She gave me a wonderful theory, which I'd love to put more work into someday: that Russians have more accidents because more of them don't actually take the driver's tests to get their license.

You see, in order to get a license, you need to pass a test with around 500 questions. Since most people here aren't inclinded to study that hard for a piece of paper with a stamp on it, many just pay for their license, i.e. bribe someone. The friend-of-a-friend network puts people willing to buy licenses in contact with the right officials, and the result is that there are plenty of people driving legally (i.e. with a license) that ought not be driving at all (i.e. they don't have a clue what they're doing).

This is interesting in face of the European experiment regarding traffic laws - I'd be interested in knowing if we could find correlations between traffic fatalities and number and severity of regulations, etc.

I don't think this is nearly all of the explination - a good bit comes from the fact that they plow the roads so poorly in the winters, for example - but it's probably a larger part than it ought to be.

Might I suggest adopting a more, dare I say, humane licensing schedule, involving perhaps a dozen or two questions at most? People might take the time to study, and in the end, less regulation just might end up being more.

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