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Culture news, 11.10.2006 16:50

Women from St. Petersburg learn traffic safety in Helsinki

safety Light blue banners attatched to car windows flutter in the wind. The banners depict a classical Soviet-built tractor driven by a woman with curly blonde hair. A convoy of women from St. Petersburg are in their cars, turning the heads of local pedestrians.

The women have come to Finland to learn about Finnish traffic safety practices.

Young ladies emerge from the cars. Among them is the sleekest, bluest-eyed beauty of all of St. Petersburg - a husky. The cars are not Ladas this time. They are quite luxurious models, and very well-equipped.

The women wanted to make sure that their road trip would proceed well, although many of them drive genuine Russian-made vehicles at home.

Anyone who has driven on Russian highways will experienced harrowing moments of terror. Woah! That was a close call! Boy, he sure went fast, and with tyres in such bad shape!

There is no shortage of speed demons, no matter how bad the road conditions. They are not even deterred by sharp turns on roads covered in black ice or full of potholes.

Small memorials can be seen along highways commemorating those who were killed in traffic accidents. They typically have crosses and plastic flowers, as well as automotive parts such as steering wheels, wheels, and other metal parts.

However, not even the memorials seem to be much of a deterrence to new deadly accidents. The annual highway death toll in Russia is about 12,000.

An association of women drivers in St. Petersburg called Green Wave of Women has launched a traffic safety campaign.

Last weekend the women drove from St. Petersburg to Helsinki to meet with researchers, planners, Members of Parliament, and insurance professionals involved in traffic safety matters. Also on the list are representatives of Finlandís traffic police.

The club has 170 members. It was set up as an alternative to clubs specialised in menís motor sports.

In one voice they praise the good condition and safety of Finnish roads, the traffic planning which takes the requirements of the terrain into consideration, and traffic signs, which give a clear indication of what is to be expected.

The women are positively bursting with enthusiasm.

Their desperate fight for safer driving in Russia has been spurred by their time in Finland, and what they have seen has given them some real ideas. Seat belts! Speed limits! Winter tyres! Improved intersections! The list is long and varied.

There is certainly much room for improvement in the anarchy which is normal in St. Petersburg traffic. Vera Grazeva, a psychologist, says that there are 1.4 million cars in the city, and that new cars are being sold at a rate of 10,000 a month.

"There are increasing numbers of large and expensive SUVs, and they are driven specifically by those who have no regard for traffic safety."

Grazeva says that nowadays, when she drives to her dacha, she chooses small side roads instead of the main highway for safety reasons.

Driving schools do teach safety, but the lessons seem to have little impact. "Research indicates that crashes are most frequently caused by young drivers who have developed a sense of self confidence, and who have a driving licence in their pocket which is about two years old."

Grazeva feels that traffic safety campaigns should be made to be fun with positive encouragement. Threats do not work. "Movies serve as a model for the culture of dangerous driving. One can see young people on the streets who think that they are in the middle of an American police series."

However, there are also gentlemen on Russian roads. "At home I drive an Oda, a cousin of the Lada, which sometimes will stall. I have never been left in trouble. Men drivers have always helped, even without being asked. All you have to do is to take on the role of a helpless female", Grazeva smirks.

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